Catchy World Rhythms
The Traveller is the 17th album by Baaba Maal, a singer and guitarist born in Podor, on the Senegal River, and one of Senegal’s most famous musicians on an international scale. Originally growing up in a fishing family, a profession in which he was expected to follow, he developed an interest in music, encouraged by Mansour Seck, who was his family’s griot (a role in West African culture that combines elements of a bard, historian and advisor, involving the keeping of oral tradition and history, and the playing of musical instruments), as well as being a longtime friend and eventual collaborator. He studied music first at a university in Dakar, and eventually École des Beaux-Arts in Paris on scholarship. Upon his return he continued studying traditional music with Seck, and has participated in many musical collaborations with artists as diverse as Brian Eno, Winston Marshall of Mumford and Sons, and Afro-Celt Sound System, often fusing traditional African music with other genres.
The Traveller, while firmly rooted in a world/traditional music sound and compostional sense, displays plenty of traits taken from Maal’s fusion sensibilities, especially in the production, which has an oddly electronic quality. This stems from the heavy, rhythmatic percussion that features on most of the songs, mostly various world instruments that are remiscent of the types of foley and sampling used by many producers, as well as the generally hi-fidelity production, which is loud and spacious, making liberal use of reverb. This works well with the generally catchy, groovy feel that is the album’s main strength, whether it be on the slower heavier “Gilli Men” or the more uptempo “Jam Jam.”
Overall the record is of a pretty consistent quality, save for the ambitiously titled final tracks “War” and “Peace,” the only tracks on the album to feature English, in the form of a rather disappointing spoken word section, which presents a mostly general and uninteresting view on the topic, with a British accent that draws the listener out of the pleasant groove of world rhythms and Senegalese language the album maintains up to that point.