Album of the Day: Orchestra Baobab, “Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng”

Three years in the making, Orchestra Baobab’s Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng simmers with the same gorgeous blend of Cuban and West African rhythms as 2007’s Made in Dakar—but a lot has changed for the Orchestra in the last decade. For one, Togo guitarist and Baobab co-founder Barthélémy Attisso left the band to concentrate on his law practice—the kora of his not-quite-replacement, Abdoulaye Cissoko, can be heard cascading through the deliciously syncopated saxophones and percussion of opening track “Foulu,” and throughout the rest of the album. And while titular singer Ndiouga Dieng, who was with the band nearly since its 1970 inception, has passed away; his son Alpha Dieng is on hand for this release, providing similarly rough-hewn, Wolof-language vocals.

Baobab’s signature sound reflects music that has made its way from Africa to Cuba and back again. That transit informs tracks like “Magnokouto,” which grooves smoothly along to an understated clave, with guest vocalist Cheikh Lo singing in Wolof lines like, “I have bought a Coke for you/ I have bought a car/ I have bought Fanta for you.” Baobab’s material also strongly reflects the Casamance background of co-founding singer Balla Sidibé, who weaves his voice through guitar and kora lines in “Mariama,” a folk song about a fisherman and rich trader who compete for the same woman. And Cissoko’s kora gives the group a more “African” folk sound, to its benefit.

Orchestra Baobab’s first iteration ended in the late ’80s, when the new and harder mbalax style played by Youssou N’dour and his peers displaced Baobab’s relatively slow grooves in Dakar clubs. Today, though, mbalax has been folded into Baobab’s sound, just another element of their cool eclecticism. Nearly a half-century old, this hybrid is clearly built to last.

Richard Gehr

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