Orchestra Baobab, Specialists in All Styles

Orchestra Baobab’s comeback album, the very accurately titled ‘Specialists In All Styles’, was honored with a Grammy Award nomination for ‘Best Contemporary World Music Album’ in 2004. This capped a spectacular return for the legendary African group.

In the 70’s, Orchestra Baobab ruled the musical roost in Senegal thanks to their winning mix of African and Cuban music. Their popularity began to wane in 1982 and the classic album, ‘Pirates Choice’, caught and capped this first successful era. The emergence of the more pop-orientated Mbalax style, performed by artists such as Youssou N’Dour in the early 80’s, managed to divert Orchestra Baobab’s fans’ attention and affection.

The group had almost 15 years of inactivity that only ended in the 90s when the popularity of World Music surged and their ‘Pirates Choice’ album was reissued on CD in 2002.This reawakened international interest in the group, and they reunited for a tour with almost their entire original line-up. The tour then led to the recording of ‘Specialist In All Styles’, recorded in London and produced, ironically and brilliantly, by Youssou N’Dour. ‘Specialist In All Styles’ features sparkling African guitars and saxophones dancing over untiring Cuban percussion. The exuberant vocals and harmonies are sung in both French and the group’s local Woloof dialect.

The songs are a blend of old and new material, with remakes of songs like ‘Ndongoy Daara’, and ‘On Verra.’ The album’s highlight is ‘Homage A Tonton Ferrer’, which features guest vocal performances by both Youssou N’Dour and Cuban icon, Ibrahim Ferrer. This song is essentially ‘Utrus Horas’, the opening song on ‘Pirates Choice’, given a radical new century lyric and music makeover.

It’s been wonderful to watch the triumphant return of this adored African group. It’s 30 years later and their magical musical skill in “all styles” has endeared them to a whole new audience of music lovers all over the world.

The members of Orchestra Baobab are: Rudy Gomis (vocals, maracas, claves); Barthelemy Attisso (vocals, guitar); Balla Sidibe (vocals, timbales); Ndiouga Dieng, Assane Mboup, Medoune Diallo (vocals); Latfi Ben Geloune (guitar); Thierno Koite (soprano, alto, & tenor saxophones); Issa Cissikho (tenor saxophone); Charlie Ndiaye (bass); Mountaga Koite (drums, congas).

Stephen Segerman
SA Rock Digest