Gig isn't quite the word for a Baaba Maal show.
The Senegalese singer's energy levels are prodigious enough before you even get on to the supporting group. Before they come on it looks like a set with guitars and drums plus a few extras. By the time the first drummer's theatrical summons from mid-hall has brought them all in – the ones who play the matching rows of percussion right and left, the kit man at the back, the one with the small drum tucked into his armpit, the kora and the backing singers and the dancers, the one behind the keyboard and the upright piano, the brass section, the two small boys and the man in the dark suit – you are looking at nearly 20 of them.
That's an energy source that fires up in megawatts. At the front stands, or leaps, or whirls – by the middle of the first number he was rotating rapidly on the spot – the man himself. Baaba Maal is a familiar presence on the world stage but his visits are always events. This one was to promote his new album Missing You but the big draw was seeing him with his full-sized Voice of the People band.
Baaba Maal's voice can hold its clear, penetrating power, now nasal and now lung-deep, through a non-stop sequence of long, pulsating numbers. If he wasn't cutting through the mass of sound he was busy swapping rhythms with the drummers, or working through slick formations with the dancers.
Briefly he took time out for an intimate interlude with guitar, even more briefly he was off to swap the blue robe for a white one. Then it was on with the momentum, building up at a steady pulse as the rhythmic patterns moved on. Powerful the sound may be but it's lucid enough to let the ringing tone of the traditional (all right, heavily amplified) kora dominate the guitars.
Much of the crowd was up on its feet dancing within minutes – quite a feat in the rigid seating of the Festival Hall. Yet the energy flow was measured, almost relaxed. It could have gone on all night and in the right space it would. This electrifying finale to the 2001 Meltdown festival had begun with a classic keep-them-guessing first half. Then the band vanished in favour of Moussa Kouyate's solo kora, sensitively played and softly sung to, if a little mystifying. Catch Baaba Maal in the intimate setting he needs on 18 July.Reuse content