The Musician's View: Move over, Bob Geldof

By Thompson, Chris; Elliott, Dominic | New Statesman (1996), March 14, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Musician's View: Move over, Bob Geldof


Thompson, Chris, Elliott, Dominic, New Statesman (1996)


"Culture is a way of helping people understand Africa: what the reality is." Baaba Maal, the Senegalese musician, is well aware of the "hopeless" stereotype attached to Africa by the west. So he champions African culture in order to combat public apathy. "Culture shows people something can be done, and that trying to help the continent is not pointless." How does he know this? "Because I live there and I know the energy of the people--culture can use this energy and share it around."

The superstar, who blends reggae and rock with Fulani (Peul) rhythms, was in London to speak at the British Museum for the Africa '05 season. Called "the Nightingale" for the clarity of his voice, he is a UN youth ambassador for HIV/Aids.

Although western enthusiasm for helping Africa is rising, Baaba Maal is well aware that it is capricious. He insists that attempts by Tony Blair and others to reconfigure Africa on the western radar must not be transitory, "something that just happens this year--'Africa, Africa, Africa'--for one year only". The same applies to the self-styled Africanistas Bono and Bob Geldof. "They have to be very sincere about what they are doing. They cannot just treat it like a facial." He alludes to an Aids charity concert he gave in Cape Town with Bono and Geldof in 2003. "It was great, but more Africans should have been involved."

He says: "Musicians and other celebrities can become role models and symbols, especially for young people. We cannot just play football for them or go on stage for them--that's important, but we also need to come to them." Above all, one has "to be conscious of what life as an African is like". Baaba Maal knows this better than any western celebrity. When not recording, he travels to remote regions of the continent to play concerts in rural areas and discuss problems with poverty-stricken villagers. …

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