Baaba Maal, review, Union Chapel: His spectacular voice is as powerful as ever

Rob Merrick
Tuesday 01 May 2018 15:28 BST

Senegal’s charismatic superstar Baaba Maal has visited Britain many times since bursting on the world music scene 30 years ago, but normally with a full electric band in tow.

It is therefore a rare treat to catch him performing virtually alone, with an acoustic guitar – and proving the decades have not withered his spectacular voice, which is as powerful as ever.

In London’s Union Chapel, perched beneath the stained-glass windows and before the pulpit in a shining, silver gown, Maal inevitably strikes something of a Christ-like figure and one with a message.

Several messages in fact – the limitless potential of his native continent, the importance of education, the transformational power of travel when it is a choice and not forced by brutal wars.

If that all sounds a bit heavy for a Friday night, don’t be fooled, because the rhythmic guitar work, the gorgeous melodies and that voice are the real highlights.

The setlist is a trip down memory lane, featuring only the title track from his recent return-to-form LP The Traveller, with old favourite "Baayo" perhaps the pick of the lot.

There is only one misstep – when an anecdote about his love of travel trips over into a rather embarrassing “joke” about how long women take to wash their hair, iron their clothes and get ready to go.

Quickly forgotten, it’s back to Maal’s finger-whirring majesty of the guitar and intense vocals – the intoxicating "Tara" is particularly lovely – before the crowd rises for a brief jamming session to see the evening out.

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