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Baaba Maal live. Photo: Adrian Boot.

Baaba Maal Takes His Classic Senegalese Sound Into the Jazz World

"I like to experiment with music. I never stand still," the Senegalese icon tells OkayAfrica in a new interview.

Baaba Maal is a living legend.

The 65-year-old Senegalese icon is largely known for his soaring voice and delicate acoustic compositions, but recent years have seen him take strides outside of that sonic world.

Three years ago Baaba Maal teamed up with producer Johan Hugo (of The Very Best) to release his his latest album, The Traveller, which featured a modern combination of Fulani vocal melodies with electronic pop beats and, even, instances of auto-tune. That same year also saw him record an EP alongside Mumford & Sons, The Very Best and South African pop group Beatenberg.

Last year, the Senegalese star took a turn towards the film industry, essentially becoming 'the voice' of Wakanda for the highly-successful Black Panther movie and its Academy Award-winning soundtrack, by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson.

Now, Baaba Maal is embarking on another musical exploration: taking his classic Senegalese sound into the world of Western jazz and teaming up with the Town Hall Ensemble, led by Steven Bernstein, for a one-of-a-kind performance.

For his first New York City performance in eight years, Baaba Maal and the Town Hall Ensemble will be translating the sounds of the kora into horns for a wholly original new sound. We spoke with the Senegalese star about his preparation and the idea behind this new concert.

Read our interview below.

Baaba Maal will be performing with the Town Hall Ensemble on May 4 in NYC. You can purchase tickets here.

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Image from Josef Adamu's 'The Hair Appointment' Series. Photo by Jeremy Rodney-Hall

Reclaiming Tradition: How Hair Beads Connect Us to Our History

A history of beads and African hair jewelry told through the unforgettable story of Baroness Floella Benjamin.

In 1977, Trinidadian-British actress and singer Floella Benjamin (OBE) was on her way to premiere her new blaxploitation film Good Joy at the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France. Styled in braids carefully accented by layered beads, she knew she'd standout amongst the festival's mostly white attendees, but nothing prepared her for the kind of reception she would ultimately receive.

"We drove along the [Promenade of] La Croisette," she recalls, "in an open top Cadillac for the film premiere and as we passed along, the crowds tried to grab my hair to get a bead as a souvenir."

It was a decade when sequined jumpsuits, gaudy fur stoles and overgrown sideburns were the norm, yet Benjamin's beaded look, which many black folks might have considered ordinary, was met with unparalleled fascination—a uniquely African hairstyle that black women had been wearing for centuries hadn't been seen before at a place like Cannes. "I stayed at the Carlton Hotel and the maids were intrigued," she recalls. "They kept knocking on my door just to look and stare at me."

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