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 Orchestra Baobab


From Cuba, Via Senegal: orchestra Baobab stresses the African element of Afro-Caribbean music.
By: John Adamian

Try the blindfold test with the Senegalese group Orchestra Baobab. Listeners might swear theyīre hearing Cuban dance music. And with good reason; Cuban and Caribbean music had a huge influence in West Africa in the ī50s and ī60s. Speaking recently with the Advocate through a translator by phone from Dakar as the group prepared for a brief tour of the U.S. (the Northampton gig is one of only five East Coast dates scheduled), Barthelemy Atisso, the groupīs guitarist, made sense of the similarities. Atisso, whose sinuous phrasing and glassy tone can sometimes evoke Jerry Garcia, says the African connection in Afro-Cuban music makes it a natural fit for West African musicians.

"I think itīs quite easy to explain," says Attiso. "Caribbean music, Afro-Cuban music, the music comes from Africa, then it went to Cuba, and itīs coming back to Africa now, but Africa is really the root for this kind of music. Even the Cubans realize this. Weīre in perfect harmony with them. We understand each other musically very well."

Cuban music is thick with the polyrhythms, percussion, call-and-response and interlocking phrasing that characterizes much African music. And Cuban music isnīt the only thing thatīs boomeranged back across the Atlantic to touch base with Africa. With a film crew in tow, Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Dave Matthews took a trip to Senegal not long ago to pay tribute to Orchestra Baobab, which was formed in 1970 and reformed after the success of the 2002 re-issue of its landmark 1982 recording Pirates Choice. Growing up in Dakar, Cuban son was a standard style to be mastered by up-and-coming musicians.

"As children we would listen to all kinds of music -- rhumba, cha-cha-cha, bolero," he says. "Afro-Cuban music was really the basis." But listen closely to the bandīs most recent CD, Specialist In All Styles. Songs are sung on French, Spanish and Wolof (Senegalīs majority ethnic group). Though one can hear plenty of clave (the all-important rhythmic underpinning of much Cuban music), there is also evidence of what some call the Wolof clave (an underlying pulse that goes something like "one - ... and-three, four"). The thread of Senegalese influences runs through Baobabīs work; it was the success of the Afro-pop style known as mībalax (partly derived from the rhythms of Senegalese sabar drumming) popularized by Youssou NīDour that initially drove the band into early retirement, but Atisso says traditional Senegalese music infuses the sound:

"We played with the great Senegalese drummer Doudou NīDiaye Rose, and the album was very good, it was authentic mībalax. But we didnīt want to just restrict our style to mībalax." As a guitarist, Atisso draws inspiration from the greats, citing Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery and Congolese guitarist Dr. Nico. And like other West African pop musicians, heīs absorbed traditional elements into his playing.

"Sometimes I try to imitate the sound of the traditional lute, the xalam, but Iīm not quite there yet," he says. "I have work to do on this and I have research ahead of me. I plan to start in Senegal and go to Mali and Guinea to perform and study."

The band too has been wood-shedding, Atisso said theyīve demo-ed enough material for two new CDs, and producer Nick Gold (Buena Vista Social Club) is listening to the new tracks. Atisso sounds like a man confident that his bandīs big comeback isnīt simply a fad:

"Only yesterday in rehearsal we put together a new song that in itself would sell 10 million albums."

Source: Valley Advocate







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