Baaba Maal: Nomad Soul

By its nature, Afro-pop extends an open invitation to outsiders and outside perspectives, an m.o. that’s helpful to remember in listening to Baaba Maal’s new project, Nomad Soul (Palm Pictures 2002; 67:16). The supple Senegalese singer’s rootsy beauty is generously mixed in with input from the likes of Sinead O’Connor’s backup singers, the Screaming Orphans, on the opening and, on the more ethereal tip, the wonderfully ambient, Eno-produced mist of “Lam Lam.” A tune like “Fanta” is, in pop parlance, hook-laden, and perhaps further from his West African heritage than we’d like, but once lured into the groove and swayed by Maal’s embracing vocals, aesthetic skepticism tends to recede. Like Maal’s 1995 album Firin’ in Fouta, Nomad Soul is the sincere personification of an artist who is naturally nomadic, a fan of R&B as much as the traditional sounds of his homeland.