Celtic connections can be found in unexpected places, as Eska Mtungwazi attested.
Baaba Maal and Eska | Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow | Rating ****
Among other songs which have helped boost the Mercury Prize-nominated English soul and jazz singer-songwriter’s profile considerably in recent months has been a mellow sideways take on Inside Out, a 1982 hit for American disco-soul band Odyssey. A song which she only later learned was written by Jesse Rae, an obscure Scottish synth-funk musician best known for dressing as a Highland warrior helmet, kilt, claymore and all everywhere he goes, be it when playing shows or running unsuccessfully for parliament in his native Selkirk.
He duetted with Eska here on Inside Out, to much amused puzzlement among the audience, in what was the highlight of a fine set opening for legendary Senegalese singer-guitarist Baaba Maal.
Maal kept up the standard of extravagant attire in a colourful flowing robe, as he began with the stirring solo acoustic lament Baayo before welcoming onstage long-term mentor and collaborater blind singer-guitarist Mansour Seck and a superb five-piece band featuring musicians from England, Cuba and Senegal. A nomad since birth, Maal’s latest album The Traveller – his first in seven years – celebrates his love of being constantly on the move and seeing the world, while at the same time reflecting on the plight of migrants and refugees forced to travel against their will.
He took a while to warm up – an unnecessary drum solo not helping the flow – but when the tempo rose in the second half the feeling was sublime as people danced in the aisles. “I am a new Celtic person,” Maal proclaimed at one point, and he was warmly welcomed into the fold.