British Museum

Baaba Maal: Live at the British Museum

By Stephen Rice (FORMER VSO The Gambia Volunteer)

Thought people might be interested that I was able to see Baaba Maal (Senegalese Musician from a small village in the north of Senegal) on Friday, February 25th as he spoke at the British Museum (London) in a packed auditorium below “The Great Court” about his music and Africa's problems. This was not a performance though he did perform a song at the end.

Aside: If anyone is in London on April 1st, he will be performing at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the “Africa '05” celebrations throughout the city.

It was quite interesting, a few of his points in his hour 1/2 talk – wildly paraphrased:

  • He is the UNDP Young Envoy tasked with awareness of issues such as poverty and HIV/AIDS
  • He puts on periodic concerts in rural communities to put across issues of importance to all of Africa (such as HIV/AIDS); Often he loses money on these concerns (incidentally, I was once in Janjanbureh where he was performing on the same weekend – it was a VERY popular event that I was, unfortunately, unable to attend)
  • He uses music as a means to educate people of the culture of Africa – Africa is not all bad – Awareness will help to solve the problems
  • He says that most Africans are aware of world-wide issues giving the example of going into villages and having discussions with the local children about global problems
  • He praised the focus of the government (and the UN) on the “Year of Africa” and it's support of development goals
  • Women are the people that actually get things done in Africa – They hold together the African family and act as mediator
  • Women need to be empowered if there is going to be change. He pointed out that Senegal had a woman Prime Minister though agreed with a comment from the audience about the societal restrictions placed on women by various religions.
  • The youth are the people that will change things through education and action (I have my doubts due to the education system I saw while in The Gambia)
  • The countries in Africa will need to work together to solve their problems
  • The people of Africa need to sort out the problems in Africa (not “outsiders”). This was his last point very subtly given I thought (drawing on an example of how socially unacceptable it is to tell other people what to do in a personal setting) that seemed to be missed by a number in the crowd.

The audience seemed to be quite interested in what he had to say with a lot of focus on the women's rights and poverty issues. Some comments included:

  • Until countries treat Africa fairly in terms of trade there will always be poverty
  • It would be better if everyone just went home and raised awareness with others instead of just talking (in such a forum)

It was interesting to note that there were actually a fair amount of Africans in the crowded auditorium.

I think that this sort of event is definitely what is needed to educate people about the real situation on the ground in Africa: There are real PEOPLE involved – It is not just a distant place full of starving people with HIV/AIDs. It is not that simple.