Baaba sings primarily in Pulaar and is the foremost promoter of the traditions of the Pulaar-speaking people, who live on either side of the Senegal River in the ancient Senegalese kingdom of Futa Tooro.
Baaba Maal was expected to follow his father and become a fisherman. However, under the influence of his lifelong friend and family gawlo, blind guitarist Mansour Seck, Baaba devoted himself to learning music from his mother and his school's headmaster. He went on to study music at the university in Dakar before leaving for postgraduate studies on a scholarship at Beaux-Arts in Paris.
After returning from study in Paris, Baaba studied traditional music with Mansour Seck and began performing with the band Daande Lenol. Baaba's fusions continued into the next decade with his Firin' in Fouta (1994) album, which used ragga, salsa and Breton harp music to create a popular sound that launched the careers of Positive Black Soul, a group of rappers, and also led to the formation of Afro Celt Sound System. His fusion tendencies continued on 1998's Nomad Soul, which featured Brian Eno as one of seven producers. In addition to his various solo releases, he was featured on two tracks, "Bushes" and "Dunya Salam", on the concept album 1 Giant Leap.
In 1998, Baaba recorded "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot + Rhapsody: The Gershwin Groove, a tribute to George Gershwin which raised money for various charities devoted to increasing HIV/AIDS awareness and fighting the disease. In 2002, Baaba again worked with the Red Hot Organization, recording "No Agreement" alongside Res, Tony Allen, Ray Lema, Positive Black Soul and Archie Shepp for the tribute album to Fela Kuti, Red Hot + Riot: The Music and Spirit of Fela Kuti.
On 7 July 2007, Baaba performed at the Live Earth concert, Johannesburg.
Baaba Maal's album On the Road, a live acoustic album recorded straight from the mixing boards of his shows over a ten-year period, was released on 10 August 2008. A new studio album, Television, was released on 1 June 2009.
He is featured on two tracks "Hunger" and "Still" on the Black Hawk Down soundtrack and performed on the title track of the 2008 video game Far Cry 2, in addition to helping to create the whole soundtrack for that game. He played at Bonnaroo and the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival in 2010.
He is featured on a track on the Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly album All of This Yours.
Baaba Maal sang the track for Kerala Tourism's 2010 ad campaign "Your moment is waiting" with music composed by One Giant Leap.
On 4 May 2013, Baaba Maal also performed at the 2013 edition of the Harare International Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe.
In 2014, he contributed to the BBC Music's remake of The Beach Boys song "God Only Knows".
Baaba Maal's 11th studio album, The Traveller, recorded with Johan Hugo from The Very Best and Winston Marshall (Mumford & Sons), was released via Palm and Marathon Artists. The lead singles, "Fulani Rock" and "Gilli Men", received critical acclaim. The Traveller was released 15 January 2016, and was accompanied by a UK tour and headlining Senegal's Festival Blues Du Fleuve. Baaba Maal is accompanying Mumford & Sons on their Gentlemen of the Road tour around South Africa. He also released a new song with Mumford & Sons called "There Will Be Time".
In 1998 he was honoured with a Prince Claus Award from the Prince Claus Fund, based in Amsterdam.1989 – Passion – Sources (compilation) - Real World Records
1989 – Djam Leelii (with Mansour Seck) – Mango Records
1991 – Baayo (with Mansour Seck) – Mango
1992 – Lam Toro – Mango
1994 – Wango – Syllart
1994 – Firin' in Fouta – Mango
1995 – Gorel – 4th & Broadway
1997 – Taara – Melodie
1998 – Nomad Soul – Import
1998 – Djam Leelii: The Adventurers – Yoff Productions
2000 – Jombaajo – Sonodisc
2001 – Missing You (Mi Yeewnii) – Palm
2003 – The Best of the Early Years (compilation) – Wrasse
2005 – Palm World Voices: Baaba Maal (compilation) – Palm
2008 – On The Road (compilation) – Palm
2009 – Television – Palm
2016 – The Traveller – Palm / Marathon Artists
1999 – Unwired: Acoustic Music from Around the World – World Music Network
2013 – The Rough Guide to the Music of Senegal – World Music Network
2016 – Johannesburg w/ Mumford and Sons – Glassnote Entertainment Group
1999 – Live at the Royal Festival Hall – Palm Pictures