Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Baaba Maal & Dande Lenol

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Listening to recordings of rising Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal, I'm struck by how this may be the first African dance music I've heard in which the most impressive aspect of the performance is not the band's bubbling bouillabaisse of tropical rhythm--not the sexy hip-twitching drumbeats, the twinkly guitars, or the punchy horns--but rather the singer's voice. To be sure, Maal's group, Dande Lenol, purveys all the rhythm one would expect from a west-African ensemble, and it's great to shake the butt to. But my attention keeps drifting away from the beat and toward the strident yet smooth way Maal's voice swoops up and down the scales. He has a commanding larynx, you bet, and he favors a style of vocal delivery almost Islamic in its nasality and subtle ornamentation. Maal, a former law student and a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, reportedly sings a lot about politics, but he refuses to pander to Western audiences by singing in French or English. If he did, says he quite simply, it would no longer be African music. Saturday, Edge of the Lookingglass, 62 E. 13th; 939-4017.

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