by Baaba Maal
(Marathon Artists, CD, LP, DL)
Just when you thought that Baaba Maal had no more surprises up his sleeve, along comes Being, a shimmering, stomping work of glory. The Senegalese superstar’s first album since 2016’s The Traveller (2016), it reprises Maal’s relationship with the Swedish producer Johan Karlberg. As on the earlier album, the pictures conjured are immense, timeless swoops of sound. Opener ‘Yerimayo Celebration’, starts slyly, quietly almost, before bursting out whacking drums, background drones and broad strokes of electronic melody. Viscerally exciting, it’s easy, listening to Being, to understand why Maal has been so significant on the soundtracks to the Black Panther movies.
The smoother edges of Being (it’s a consummately produced album) signify no diminution of Maal’s power. For more than 40 years, his soaring voice has defined an Afrobeat so confident it’s been able to work across many musical genres. This seeking out of connections, of beginning, renewing, extending musical conversations, is typical of Maal’s body of work. Maal’s interlocutors here are strong collaborators: Esau Mwamwaya from the Very Best Band on ‘Freak Out’, Rougi on ‘Boboyillo’, and thrillingly, the Mauritanian rapper General Paco Lenol on the mighty ‘Mbeda Wella’. Longstanding band members Chekh Ndoye (bass ngoni) and Momadou Sarr (percussion) anchor proceedings expertly. For Maal, music has always occupied a social and cultural domain, and this is highlighted here, with songs that deal with issues of climate crisis, migration, and technological change. Don’t be fooled by the slickness of Being: it’s an expansive album with an undercurrent of radicalism.
The Land, the Water, the Sky
by Black Belt Eagle Scout
(Saddle Creek, LP CD, DL)
So much to love here: The Land, the Water, the Sky is a feminist power operation delivered by the force of nature that is Black Belt Eagle Scout. BBES’s prime mover is Katherine Paul, a queer Swinomish/Iñupiaq singer-songwriter based in Portland, Oregon. In terms of studio work, the band is mostly multi-instrumentalist Paul, joined by bassist Grace Bugbee: live, as shown by the video to lead single ‘My Blood Runs Through This Land’, it’s a different matter, with an all-woman band rocking out in a way that would do Nirvana or Hole credit.
This is BBES’s third album, and her first release since the pandemic. Its origins lie in her journey from Portland back to the ancestral lands of the Swinomish. The experience was a way of recontextualizing herself with a long history as a way of moving forward. While the grungy exhilaration of ‘My Blood…’ serves up sheer velocity, much of the rest of the album is nuanced and contemplative. ‘Understanding’, with only four lines of lyrics, is a statement of being that is as much personal as it is political. The ravishing ‘Sedna’ is a love song framed in the oceanic flows conjured up by the Inuit goddess of the marine world.
Paul’s early musical education was based firmly in indigenous experiences with family and community groups; teenage exposure to indie and grunge music fuelled her trajectory into a self-authored music that has a melodic swoon never foreclosed by amplified guitar. There’s space here for a genuine realignment of culture and community with a heritage revitalized by crosscurrents of sound and poetry.