Once upon a time many thought that Ali Baba would be the next big thing in African music. With his flashy stage show and eclectic, cosmopolitan style it was thought that he could give King Sunny Ade and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti a run for their money. His premier disc Ali Baba '85 drew a lot of attention, and an appearance in London later that year seemed to herald bigger and better things.
In the end, though, not much came of it. King Sunny Ade lost his contract with Island Records and Fela stayed more of a cult figure, at least until his death in 1997. The "African music boom" of the mid '80s turned out to be more of a "boomlet." And Ali Baba returned to his native Cameroun, where he continued to make music that was appreciated by many until his death on May 15, 2004.
Amadou Baba Ali was a a Hausa, a nationality of 30-35 million that is centered on Northern Nigeria and the Republic of Niger, but has members throughout West Africa. He was born in 1956 in Garoua, northern Cameroun. From 1980 to 1984 he achieved great fame and skill as a dancer with the National Ballet of Cameroun and in 1985 recorded Ali Baba '85 in Paris.
Frank Bessem's Musiques d'Afrique states that Ali Baba suffered a crippling stroke in 1993 that made it very difficult for him to get about, yet achieved a miraculous come-back later in the '90s. He founded a production company, Soul Gandjal, with the aim of promoting artists from northern Cameroun.
What I find interesting about Ali Baba is that for many years he was one of the few Hausa musicians performing in a modern, contemporary mode. In the recent period hip-hop and other styles have made their influence felt in Hausaland, but for many years Hausa music was performed almost totally in traditional styles utilizing instruments like the talking drum, goje, kontigi, and kakakai. There were only a couple of Hausa highlife musicians and no Hausa equivalent of syncretic, modern Nigerian styles like juju or fuji.
Here's the music:
Around 1984 or so, Ali Baba contributed this tune to the deluxe 3-LP set produced by the Société Camerounaise du Droit d'Auteur (SOCADRA), Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun (Afrovision FMC 001/002/003). Here he's backed up by the National Orchestra of Cameroun. Fleurs Musicales, by the way, is an anthology that is just crying out for reissue. I'm planning to post more tracks from it in the future:
Ali Baba & l'Orchestre Nationale du Cameroun - Aourgo
From Ali Baba '85 (Kappa SAS 056), two tracks that perfectly exemplify Ali Baba's wondrously inventive style:
Ali Baba - Waioh
Ali Baba - Hadiza
Finally, from 1989's Condition Femenine (Editions Haïssam MH 14), Ali Baba's tribute to the great Nigerian Hausa praise singer Alhaji Mamman Shata. In the future I will post music by Mamman Shata and other Hausa musicians from Nigeria and Niger:
Ali Baba - Alhaji Mamman Shata