The Roundhouse, 31 January
Having released their debut album in the early Seventies before disbanding the following decade, Orchestra Baobab are among the growing number of bands resurrected to greater acclaim in the 21st century, this time aided by World Circuit records mining their back catalogue. And judging by their joyous performance at The Roundhouse last week, it’s not a second coming these exceptional musicians are going to lightly pass up.
There were 10 members of Orchestra Baobab crowding the stage tonight, even in the absence of founding member Ndiouga Dieng, who died last November. The Senegalese band’s new album will be a tribute, and they started with a haunting, gentle eulogy in ‘Dee Moo Woor’, fronted by Dieng’s son, Alpha. From then on it was party time, commencing with ‘Ami Kata Bay’, a lilting example of the Latin fusion that gives Baobab particular distinction, the band having assimilated the African fashions of the time for Cuban sounds and Portuguese creole. Blended with swinging Afro-folk drawn from this multi-ethnic outfit’s diverse cultures, as well as a feel-good West African funkiness in the likes of ‘Fayincounko’, it wasn’t long before the band, speaking only French, began to rightly implore the crowd to dance. And despite the event being incompatibly all-seater, by the irresistible sparkling sashay of ‘Foulo’, the bulk of attendees had been prised to their feet.
As highlife basslines and dexterous percussion formed a powerful bedrock for the extended rondos, each Orchestra member, some more readily than others, took to the front of the stage to solo. The soaring horn playing (and loose choreography) of flamboyant tenor sax man Issa Cissokho stood out, as did the crisp, electric fugues of young guitarist Rene Sowatche. Through it all, vocalist Bala Sidibe, an Orchestra founder now aged 74, lit up the night with his rich, far-reaching tenor.
Time passed quickly as Orchestra Baobab played for nigh on 100 minutes, displaying a musical intuition honed during their gestation as a club band in Dakar, one perhaps now making up for lost time. This was an evening notable for its sense of sheer positivity, the enthusiasm and pleasure that Orchestra Baobab conveyed in their performance being more than reciprocated by the Roundhouse crowd until long after the closing notes of the encore had faded.