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Members include Barthelemy Attisso, lead guitar; Issa Cissokho, saxophone; Ndiouga Dieng, vocals; Medoune Diallo, vocals; Latfi Ben Geloune, rhythm guitar; Rudy Gomis, vocals, songwriting; Moutaga Koite, drums; Thierno Koite, saxophone; Assane Mboup, vocals; Laye Mboup (died in 1974), vocals; Baro N'Diaye, saxophone; Charlie N'Diaye, bass guitar; Thione Seck, vocals; Balla Sidibe, vocals, percussion. Addresses: Record company--World Circuit Ltd., 138 Kingsland Rd., London E2 8DY, England. Website--Orchestra Baobab Official Website: http://www.orchestrabaobab.com.

One of the most popular African bands in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Orchestra Baobab fell out of favor in mid-1980s and disbanded by the end of that decade. However, the close of the twentieth century saw a resurgence in the band's popularity. The group re-formed for a world tour and released a new album in 2002.

Orchestra Baobab started as a house band in 1970, playing on weekends at a nightclub that opened that year in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Called the Baobab Club, after a tree common to Senegal, its owner was a relative of the country's president. It quickly became the hottest nightclub in Dakar, catering to government officials and other dignitaries. Orchèstre Baobab, as it was then known, played a wide variety of styles ranging from R&B, rock, tango, and paso doble to Afro-Cuban, Wolof griot (Senegalese storytelling), Congolese, and Ghanaian music.

Originally a seven-piece band, Orchestra Baobab was founded by Baro N'Diaye, a saxophone player. Three of the band's original members were formerly part of the Star Band, a well known Senegalese group. Orchestra Baobab's sound was influenced by Cuban music, which became popular in West Africa after sailors brought it to the area in the 1940s. In a process musicologists call "reverse diffusion," the music that would influence Orchestra Baobab had traveled from Senegal to Cuba on slave ships, and then returned to Senegal with Cuban accents. The band also had an African flavor imparted by lead singer Laye Mboup, who sang in the griot (Senegalese storytelling) style. The rest of the band's lineup, which fluctuated over the years, hailed from all over Africa, including southern Senegal, Togo, Morocco, and Mali.

The band's weekend gigs proved so popular that they were soon booked to play the Baobab Club every night of the week. Their fusion of styles invited comparison to the music of the then-popular Guinea band Bembeya Jazz. In 1974, Mboup died in an automobile accident, and Thione Seck took over his spot in the band.

The band's popularity continued to grow, still playing at the Baobab Club, but also entertaining regularly at high profile events, such as the Parisian wedding of fashion designer Pierre Cardin's daughter, the Miss Senegal pageant, and the inauguration of the Senegalese president Abdou Diaf. The band's popularity quickly spread from its native Senegal throughout West Africa, and crossed over to European audiences.

When the Baobab Club shut its doors in 1979, the band was forced to seek a new home. Around this time the band also sought to expand its opportunities abroad. In 1978 the group went to Paris to record an album, On Vera Ça: The 1978 Paris Sessions, which many considered to be among the group's best work, for both performance and production values.

The band's success continued to grow at home, and by the early 1980s, it had become the most popular and successful band in Senegal, often drawing fees in excess of $4,500 for a live performance. The group also continued to record albums, including Mouhamadou Bamba and Sibou Odia, which were combined into a single 1983 in entitled simply Bamba. Traditional African music remained the band's greatest influence, although the 1982 album Pirate's Choice featured many songs in Spanish. Considered by many to be a showcase of the group's broad musical range, the album was also an acknowledgment of their popularity among fans who liked to trade illegal recordings of the group's concerts.

Changing musical tastes, however, began to take their toll. At about this time, a new amplified musical form known as mbalax became popular in Dakar. Pioneered by another former Star Band member Youssou N'Dour, the faster and more percussive mbalax pushed Orchestra Baobab's cool, laid-back sound aside. Orchestra Baobab tried to change in response, but their signature style proved incompatible. As lead singer Barthelemy Attisso later explained to Nigel Williamson in the London Times, "We were very popular and everybody loved us. Then musical fashions changed. Suddenly all anybody wanted to listen to was Youssou."

In 1985 the group brought two female vocalists on board and added synthesizers to their mix, but their popularity continued to wane; by 1987 the group disbanded. The end of the twentieth century, however, saw a resurgence in the group's popularity. An expanded version of their 1982 album Pirate's Choice was reissued in Europe, and released in the United States the following year, bringing the group truly global success for the first time.

The band regrouped, but by this time lead guitarist Barthelemy Attisso had found work as a lawyer and hadn't performed in ten years. When he got the call asking if he would like to resume his musical career, he later told the Independent, "I put down the phone and ran to my guitar, to see what it felt like. And I found I was completely lost." He spent the next month practicing far into the night after working at his law office during the day, and, "my fingers began working, and my technique came back. Rejoining the band was an unforgettable moment."

The band launched a world tour and headed for the studio to cut a new album for the first time in 20 years. Called Specialist in All Styles, the 2002 released was named for a barbershop sign in Senegal. Featuring both previous hits and a number of new tunes, the album received critical acclaim. Ben Ratliff of the New York Times called it a "rare delicacy," and the Guardian's Robin Denselow hailed it as "one of the great comeback albums, a gloriously enthusiastic and classy set. " Chris Nickson of All Music Guide called the album "every bit the equal" of Pirate's Choice. In a twist of fate, the new album was produced by, and features the voice of, none other than Youssou N'Dour, the musician at least partly responsible for Orchestra Baobab's initial fall from grace.

by Michael Belfiore

Orchestra Baobab's Career

Group formed in Dakar, Senegal, 1970; released debut album N'Wolof on Dakar Sound label, 1970; recorded On Vera Ça: The 1978 Paris Sessions, 1978; Mouhamadou Bamba, 1980; Sibou Odia, 1981; Pirate's Choice on the World Circuit label, 1982; released first new album in 20 years: Specialist in All Styles, on the World Circuit label, 2002.

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Orchestra Baobab Lyrics

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 15 years ago

It looks like they don't give permission, since no one has posted the lyrics. I can't see what harm it could do! I love the music and would love to be able to both sing along in the African language and to know what they are saying!

over 15 years ago

I am looking desperately for the lyrics of my favorite song Yen say. Can anybody help me?