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Song Premiere: Mumford & Sons Sing Praise With Baaba Maal in “There Will Be Time”

Mumford and Sons
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An almost ecstatic piece of world music about the tension between an all-consuming faith and human frailty

 

 

When I first heard Mumford & Sons’ new single, “There Will Be Time,” I was instantly hooked. But it was the live version (above) performed in South Africa that won me over. Right when many people were probably ready to write the U.K. band off as a self-parodic shtick, the first single off the forthcoming Johannesburg EP brings a depth and originality that’s impossible not to admire.

Mumford & Sons rose to fame in the late 2000s with the stomping folk-rock of their first two albums, a sound they left behind for the more electric (and less dazzling) Wilder Mind. But “There Will Be Time” returns to what Mumford does best, albeit in a totally unexpected way.

What really kicks the track up is the vocals of Senegalese star Baaba Maal, who soars over the subdued arrangement of The Very Best’s Johan Hugo. Maal teamed up with Mumford banjoist Winston Marshall for his 11th studio album The Traveler this past year, a collaboration which blossomed into a handful of off-the-cuff songs and shows with Mumford & Sons in South Africa. “The song was kind of thrown together in action,” Mumford bassist Ted Dwane told Zane Lowe when they released the song. “We knocked it out in about a day. … We had so much fun. … We decided we’d make a record while we were there.” The result of this musical meeting of the minds is a powerful, almost ecstatic piece of world music about the tension between an all-consuming faith and human frailty.

Both Marcus Mumford and Maal have very deep (and very different) religious roots — Mumford’s parents are the former national leaders of the evangelical Vineyard Church, while Baal’s father was a singer at the local mosque who gave the “muezzin,” or call to prayer, over a loudspeaker — and that lineage is everywhere in their music. Mumford often makes explicit references to literary and theological works in his lyrics (e.g., the nod to G.K. Chesterton’s book on St. Francis in “The Cave”), while Baal has carried on his father’s tradition with songs like “A Call to Prayer.”

But the synergy between them in “There Will Be Time” brings out a special kind of devotion fed by a common language:

[Maal singing in Pulaar]

[Mumford & Sons]
In the cold light, I live to love and adore you
It’s all that I am, it’s all that I have
In the cold light, I live, I only live for you
It’s all that I am, it’s all that I have

[Maal singing in Pulaar]
[Mumford & Sons]
So open up my eyes to a new light
I wandered round your darkened land all night
But I lift up my eyes to a new high
And indeed there will be time

In the cold light, I live to love and adore you
It’s all that I am, it’s all that I have
In the cold light I live, I only live for you
It’s all that I am, it’s all that I have

Why do I keep falling?
Why do I keep falling?

[Baaba Maal]
There is a time, a time to love,
A time to sing, a time to shine,
A time to leave, a time to stay,

There is a time, a time to cry
A time to love, a time to live
There is a time, a time to sing

A time to love

[Mumford & Sons]
And in the cold light, I live to love and adore you
It’s all that I am, it’s all that I have
And in the cold light, I live to love and adore you
It’s all that I am, it’s all that I have
Why do I keep falling?
Why do I keep falling?

Maal’s English lyrics seem to take their inspiration right from the book of Ecclesiastes. As to what Maal saying when he sings in his native Pulaar language, I have no idea.

In a way, it doesn’t matter. Even the sight and sound of this collaboration is a thing of power. We live in strange days, where old, ugly racial and religious divisions fan flames of suspicion and violence all over the world, including right here in America. But to see a West African folk singer with Islamic roots, standing together with Christian-minded rockers who are (let’s admit it) just about as white as it gets, singing a song of adoration pierced with a lance, is to see brothers united in peace in the search for one Father.

“There Will Be Time” is more than a standout track of 2016 — it’s all that I am, it’s all that I have it’s one of those really special moments when music becomes infinitely bigger than itself.

 

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father, amateur philosopher and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish and Real Clear Religion.

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