Release Date: Mar 31, 2017
Record label: World Circuit
There's a certain elegance to Orchestra Baobab's latest, and that's entirely the point. The Senegalese outfit -- notable veterans Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis on vocals, Balla Sidibe on timbales, Mountaga Koite on congas, saxophonists Issa Cissoko and Thierno Koite and bassist Charlie Ndiaye -- have now woven their velvety take on Wolof rhythms, Casamance creole and Afro-Cuban influences into something that's at once homegrown and universal. Since their reformation back in 2001 -- driven by a reissue of their classic 1982 long-player Pirate's Choice -- the nearly five decades-old band have been revitalized by the renewed interest in their sleek and refined take on "Senegal to Guinea" rhythms.
O rchestra Baobab have enjoyed an extraordinary career. In the 1970s they shook up the music scene in Senegal with their unique, lilting blend of traditional African influences and Afro-Cuban dance styles. Then they broke up for 16 years, before returning in 2001 to be hailed as cult heroes. This is only the third new studio album they have released since then, and their first in a decade, following a series of personnel changes.
Going ten years between albums is no big deal for Senegal's Orchestra Baobab, whose integration of West African and Afro-Cuban styles made them a sensation in 1970. After cutting more than 20 albums between then and 1987, they split up for 15 years. They reunited for a tour in 2001, just as 1989's classic Pirates Choice was reissued by World Circuit.
W hen Latin styles crossed to West Africa in the 1970s, a beautiful hybrid was born. Senegal's Orchestra Baobab distilled Afro-Cubana to perfection on 1982's Pirate's Choice, though it was 20 years before the west discovered their genius and they reformed. Producer Nick Gold, of Buena Vista fame, doesn't fix what ain't broke; this first album in a decade purrs along, a sumptuous matrix of slinky rhythms, soaring voices and tooting saxophones.
When a new nightclub opened in Dakar, Senegal in 1970, its owners had prudence in naming the spot Baobab Club, after one of the world's longest living trees. Members of the country's famous Star Band broke off and settled in as the new club's house band, and much like their namesake, Orchestra Baobab has enjoyed a similar longevity, now nearing the half-century mark. Percussionists Balla Sidibe and Mountaga Koite, bassist Charlie Ndiaye, and saxophonist Issa Cissoko have kept the core of the group intact ever since.
Orchestra Baobab has had ups and downs in the last 47 years—breakups, reunions, deaths of members as crucial as Ndiouga Dieng, the lead vocalist who passed away in 2016 and to whom its newest album is dedicated—and yet, there is joy in this band. There always has been, at high moments as well as low, and nothing about that has changed for Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, a celebration of a cherished singer and a long-lived group. The foundation of the album is the orchestra's well-honed Afro-Cuban sounds, passionate and polished, and the international vibes don't end there.