Baaba Maal: The wrong note for Africa

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The Independent Online

I'm surprised there aren't more African artists participating in Live 8. I would have thought something on this scale would call for their presence. My worry is the difficulty of communicating these serious issues to a whole continent where a lot of poor people don't even have a television, but who are intrinsically connected to their culture. If you want to get the message to the poor, you have to use their language, which is their own music.

I appreciate that people want to take a stand and perform at a concert to call attention to the plight of Africa and our fight against poverty. I think it's very important. To put on these shows and say to the world: "Stop and think about what to do about Africa" is a noble idea, and I respect them. But to really make something happen, more African artists should be involved.

The biggest mistake many people make is that though they want to help Africa, they don't understand that the continent is very complex. People have to learn more. It's not enough just to know about the big cities like Dakar, Lagos or Johannesburg. If you want to help people, you have to put into the minds of all Africans that the future of this continent should start with them, with help from the rest of the world.

It will be Africans who are going to make this work. They're the ones who will work in a new hospital after the aid workers have gone. They have to be involved from the beginning, so that they understand what is going on, and what they will have to do afterwards. It's very good to organise a concert, or to have meetings in London or Edinburgh, but poverty in Africa needs more than one concert, or two concerts, or a year to talk about this. This is a process that has to include everyone.

I do feel it's very patronising as an African artist that more of us aren't involved. I met Bob Geldof when I did an Aids awareness concert in Cape Town, in the presence of Nelson Mandela. It was a great concert, the music was good, the intent was very honourable, but you couldn't see the people who were really sick with HIV/Aids in the crowd. They were far away from everything. It wasn't even on TV or radio. It's better strategy to make people interested in what is being done for them.

I realise there's integrity in what Live 8 is doing. But we have to be very careful because we live in a time where everything is about money, building a reputation, protecting a career. African people are used to hearing that people have done something for them, but then never seeing the money arrive.

It's good when Tony Blair or Mandela says that this year they are going to focus on African poverty. But all through the last decade people tried to help Africa but didn't find the right way to get aid to the people who really needed it. That is the problem. And I know the energy is here, especially among the young people, and they want to do things, but the money never arrives to help them.

If, in a concert like Live 8, people don't give African artists the chance to appear, how are they going to add their voice? They need to be given a chance to bring something back to Africa. To have a few more African acts on the bill, aside from Youssou N'Dour, would make more sense.

We have a proverb: "The doctor is coming to help the one who is sick. The doctor is very noble in his actions, but the one who's sick is more concerned about how people are going to treat him." I think you have to talk to your patient. It is him who came to you and said: "Help me, I want you to heal me." So everything you do for him, you have to take the decision with him.

My problem isn't that I'm not involved myself: it's not seeing people like Salif Keita or Angélique Kidjo, who travel the world and talk about Africa. They're fighting to make people understand that we are all the same. These people should have a place in a concert like this. This is not about how many records African artists sell. It should be about the whole package. If African artists aren't given a chance, how are they going to sell records and take the message back to Africa? Sometimes it seems to be about keeping these artists down at a level where some people want them to stay.

I wish the concert success, but I ask them to consider very carefully what happens after the event. That's the important thing. Some young people in Africa may not go to school, but they are very intelligent and they are tired of all these people using the name of their continent without understanding their needs.

Baaba Maal headlines the Glastonbury JazzWorld stage with his band Daande Lenol on 25 June, and Prom 40 at the Royal Albert Hall on 13 August. He is a UN representative on the issue of HIV/Aids in Africa.