(1/18/02, Cleveland, OH) The
western sun knelt on the horizon like a fiery red magnet, beckoning
the metal in our car and tugging us closer by the minute to Cleveland,
our blessed destination. To me, it was reminiscent of an African
sunset out there, beaming in the lonely distance. Between
its welcoming warmth and the soothing sound of Baaba Maal's "Yoolelle
Maman" filling the car, I felt as if I could forget the surrounding
winter land and open my window to an imagined warmth.
Though I would have chosen the soothing reverie, I remained in the
Eastern United States, gliding across the brown scenery on
salt bleached roads; but through its power, even cold reality could
not find the strength to hold back the tide of excitement we felt
as we drew closer to our destination. Upon our arrival, we parked
the car and entered the Cleveland Museum of Art to eagerly look
for our seats. The auditorium was quaint and softly lit, the
stage dotted with an array of acoustic guitars.
I take notice of someone behind us whispering, 'I heard this is
his first all acoustic show.'
After hearing this, I looked in the program notes and sure enough
it stated, 'for this rare acoustic performance...'
This elevated our excitement.
After a brief video presentation from Palm Pictures, the lights
dimmed and Baaba Maal, clothed in shimmering white, made his humble
entrance. He waved to the audience and proceeded to perform
his first number, which he played solo. Lightly strumming
his Ovation Guitar, he rang out in his native tongue, the soothing
"Yoolelle Maman." The recorded version I had heard
earlier, though fulfilling, could not hold its ground here in the
The others soon joined him on the stage: Mansour Seck (on
vocals, guitar), Mama Gaye (on guitar), Barou Sall (on hoddu), Kauding
Cissoko (on kora), and El Hadji Niang (on bass). The stage
was filled with electricity, which flowed into the audience.
To my disappointment, there were no drums, but the rhythm came through
like an ocean squall, strong and unhindered; I looked around and
saw that no one could keep perfectly still--young and old tapped
their feet and hands, or simply moved their head.
I soon found peace with the absence of drums.
At one point, Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck put down their instruments
and danced about the stage. Baaba Maal's movements were energetic
and dramatic, transforming the stage into live theater. The music
moved him as it was moving us. It was as if we were witnessing
these men playing for their own enjoyment, beside a quiet fire in
their homeland. Only here, the fire was in them.
My heart seemed to soar above the audience on an invisible platform.
Music had always touched me deeply, but there are rare and beautiful
occasions when an artist strikes such a chord that I nearly come
This was one of those occasions.
Time passed and the final number, "Allah Addu Jam (Prayers
For Peace)," continued to carry the rhythm. By now, the
tempo had greatly increased. Eager participants danced up
to the stage and threw money in honor of his cause. At one
point, a fan actually climbed onto the stage and danced for several
minutes; Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck, again dancing themselves,
simply looked his way and waved appreciatively.
A standing ovation, one encore and an excited departure later, we
found ourselves in the car again, heading eastward. I thought
how the sun would be raising in Africa soon--the same sun I had
seen earlier, but it was time for others to be warmed by its rays.
As with the sun, I thought, Baaba Maal's music should be shared;
to not share such a wonderful thing would be a terrible shame.
These sounds, straight from Africa's musical heart, welcome all
to take part in its radiance.
While we faded into the darkness, I quietly thanked Baaba Maal for
sharing with me his own personal sunshine--even more so for delivering
it to my homeland.
(Shane Meyer is a freelance writer)