- Senegal's renowned singer, Baaba Maal, has been appointed a new UN Youth Emissary and is to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and poverty in Africa. The 49-year-old rebel of the Fulani people has become famous for his voice, multi-cultural rhythms and for his defence of the oppressed and impoverished.
Born in 1954 in a small village at River Senegal, close to the Mauritanian border, Baaba Maal was an early rebel against oppressive traditions. Through his caste, he was destined to be a fisherman, while only the Griot caste of his Fulani (Hal Pulaar) village were allowed to turn musicians and artists. Baaba Maal rejected this caste system.
Becoming a famous singer, he remained socially conscious. In his songs - which connect local tradition to world music (Cuban, North American, Brazilian, etc) - the misfortunates are given a mouthpiece. The devoted Muslim defends the rights of women and the poor against discrimination and exploitation.
Therefore, the UN development agency UNDP had an easy choice in appointing Baaba Maal its socially conscious Youth Emissary at a gala concert in Dakar last night. He now is to help raise awareness among young people in Africa about the threat of HIV/AIDS and initiatives to reduce poverty.
- I am very proud of this appointment, said Baaba Maal, now also leader of the group Daande Leenol (Voice of the People). "It strengthens my determination to work harder to contribute more to improving the living conditions of disadvantaged people of the African continent, especially young people, whose future is seriously threatened by illiteracy, poverty and HIV/AIDS."
Baaba Maal gladly accepted the honourable appointment. "We artists have the ability to raise awareness among youth through music, movies, and sports and to inform governments about the problems undermining our society," he said.
Baaba Maal first learned to play the kora - a traditional instrument of West Africa - as a boy and later turned to the guitar. He was trained at the music conservatory in Dakar and won a scholarship to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he studied before forming his group.
His albums, including "Firin' in Fouta" and "Nomad Soul," fuse traditional African music with sounds from around the globe and have won him a world following. While his title 'African Woman' has a Cuban salsa tune and his 'Call to a Prayer' sounds more Oriental, all have a basic West African sound fundament.
Musicians from Senegal and elsewhere in Africa had joined in last nights Dakar concert. Guests included government officials, religious leaders, representatives of UN agencies and youth organisations and the national and international media.
Ahmed Rhazaoui, UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator, said that artists in general, including musicians, can play a leading role in reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS. In the great African oral tradition, singers and musicians are already using their fame and their ability to communicate to raise awareness and mobilise people into action, he noted.
- We encourage Baaba Maal and all artists on the African continent to put their talent, creativity and energy into the service of mobilising young people and others ... stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS," said UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown.
Baaba Maal, meanwhile, is taking his fame far beyond the borders of Senegal. A long-time famous artist in the region of West Africa, the modest Fulani has performed on stages throughout the world.
Unlike other West African "superstars", however, Baaba Maal has never had any intentions of moving away from the region's uncontested cultural capital, Dakar. Here, he finds inspiration for he traditionally based compositions and remains among the people he wants to show his solidarity. Too much fame and glamour isn't an aim for everybody.
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