By Angie Lemon

The digital single titled Homeland is the product of a special collaboration between master kora player Seckou Keita and star vocalist Baaba Maal, both from Senegal, and carries the feeling of a return to a place that carries everyday beauty and joy, a respect for tradition while looking into the future, a sense of nostalgia mixed with warmth and hope.

Baaba Maal and Seckou Keita’s paths have crossed many times over the past 25 years at festivals and shared stages. They have developed a mutual respect and love for each other’s music and have been talking about collaboration for a while. They finally used the quieter time offered by the Coronavirus pandemic to realize their wish with Homeland.

At the start of 2021, Seckou Keita set himself the ambition to release a series of pan-African collaborations throughout the year and beyond, with the aim of releasing an album in a few years. In February 2021 he released his first single, Elles Sont Toutes Belles, featuring the popular Senegalese singer, Aida Samb. Now, he brings us Homeland, the second track recorded with the legendary singer Baaba Maal.

The thinking behind these collaborations started in 2020 as Seckou Keita was traveling back from touring. Like everyone else, he found himself confined to his adopted home in Nottingham in Britain with surreal feelings: confusion, disillusionment, and fear.

It is not unusual for artists and others to move from their small towns, rural areas, and sometimes their own country to pursue their careers. While the COVID-19 pandemic was a difficult time, like many others, Seckou Keita took this opportunity to take stock and reflect on what was really important to him. And family and home came first. So, at the end of 2020, he traveled back to Senegal to return to his beloved birthplace and wrote this tribute song. There he reconnected with Baaba Maal who immediately accepted his invitation to collaborate.

While Keita who sings in Mandinka praises life in the green and lush Casamance (southern Senegal), for Baaba Maal who sings in Halpular home is Podor, a former river stop-over located in the heart of the historic region of Fouta-Toro in northern Senegal, a semi-desert region on the border of Mauritania. Keita and Maal both sing about the simple joys and beauty of everyday life.

Homeland celebrates things many take for granted; as simple as food, the intimate connections to the elderly, children playing in the streets, a general joyful spirit, and the exceptional natural, and still preserved landscapes that surround them. Both musicians carry a sense of respect and somehow nostalgia for tradition but through their music acknowledge, one note at a time, the inevitable changes, conveying a spirit of hope, that we will all be drawn to contribute to make the world a better place. And while Seckou Keita is descended from the griot lineage, who traditionally played and sang for kings and queens, he shows that his heart and music resonate with everyone who hears it.

This feeling is carried by the small contradictions that make life beautiful and infused into the music: traditional kora is mixed with more contemporary musical sounds and programmed beats brought by some of Senegal’s top musicians. Homeland is rocked by soft Sabar rhythms which gently break into warm reggae vibes and Seckou Keita’s gentle singing throughout gives space to the powerful and inspired voice of Baaba Maal who, yet again, shines as one of the most recognizable and leading voices of the continent.

Besides Keita on Kora, Vocals and Sabar Drums, and Maal on Vocals, other musicians on the Homeland project are Cheik Niang on Guitars, Christian Obam on Bass Guitar, Tom Colvin on Programmed Strings and Percussion, and Hakim on Drumbeats.

You can buy this African/World Music on the Seckou Keita Music label upon its release on June 25, 2021.

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