Not all those boring duties and affairs that kept me from blogging weren’t actually that boring. One was pretty exciting, but the kind of excitement one can rather do without. I had a water leek in my apartment a couple of days ago. While I was spending time for work at the other side of the country the neighbours, who lived just under me, phoned me to tell me that water was dripping from the ceiling in their living room. I drove back home as fast as I could to find my own apartment flooded with water. Apparently a small tab in my kitchen had broken and spilled water on the floor.
Well, shit happens. I only hope that my wooden floor holds it and dries out. It’s made entirely of tropical wood, which probably doubled my ecological footprint a couple of times, but it’s not manipulated with all sorts of toxics and plastics which probably makes it more vulnerable for this kind of wet accidents.
Anyway, time to relax and one tropical tree leads to another. The Baobab tree for instance is a very big tree that is also photogenic and elegantly sculptured and that grows in most West African countries. It gave its name to a famous club in Dakar. The band that started to play there in the seventies, Orchestra Baobab, got on its turn its name from that club and the tree.
If one is not familiar with their music and their sound one would think that they’re not African but from Cuba. Which is not that odd if you know that Cuban and Caribbean music in general has been very popular in West Africa ever since the forties and has had an enormous impact on modern African music.
The band formed in the seventies and quickly developed its relaxed keymark sound and its elegant softly flowing Afrocuban vibe. Because of the many African musicians from other countries that once played in the band their sound assimilated influences from many African styles ranging from highlife to the Rumba from Congo.
Orchestra Baobab was immensely popular during the late seventies and early eighties until 1984 when they got out of the limelight because of younger and more energetic musicians like Youssou N’Dour with his Mbalax sound that took Senegal by storm. They finally stopped playing all together.
From that moment on their story becomes very similar tot that of the Buena Vista Social Club from Cuba. After years of inactivity they got rediscovered, were asked to get back together to record and tour again and as a result they finally got the recognition in Europe and the States that they deserved.
In the case of Orchestra Baobab it was Nick Gold from the World Circuit label and their 1982 recording sessions which over the years received a legendary status among fanatic African music lovers around the world. In 2001 these sessions got reissued as Pirate’s Choice and in 2002 a great new album, Specialists in All Styles, followed. That was the moment when I first heard their music. This years they released another new album called Made in Dakar and the promotion tour brought them to Brussels.
I’m usually a fan of rather heavy, energetic and gritty African vibes like Afrobeat but I immediately liked this sophisticated well crafted music from Senegal. What stroke me was the clear sound in which you can hear each instrument and in which each instrument has its proper place.
A nice anecdote to illustrate this was the fact that during the live concert, their tambourine got broken and they were devastated that this was the case and that it took the people from La Botanique a while to fix it because they really needed this thing for a couple of song. When it was fixed you could immediate hear why they were so concerned because it really made a difference.
The producer and guest vocalist on these albums was Youssou N’Dour which is a bit ironic. Another funny anecdote is the fact that for the Buena Vista Social Club sessions that Ry Cooder organised in Havana it was originally intended that Orchestra Baobab would join, in order to bring together Cuban and African musicians with similar styles. Because of problems with visa this plan never got realised.
Specialists in All Styles
Bul Ma Miin
Dée Moo Wóor
Jiin Ma Jiin Ma
On Verra Ça
Made In Dakar