An Afro-Caribbean-Cuban band, Orchestra Baobab was formed in 1970. It’s a multi-national and multi-ethnic club band that has its musical base in the Afro-Cuban rhythm, Congolese rumba and Portuguese Creole melody. The Orchestra Baobab managed to produce more hits in a span of 12 years than any other bands that could produce in their lifetime. Although, they were one of the dominant bands in the 70s, they disbanded in 1985. However, a major international interest in their style of music led them to reform in 2001. Orchestra Baobab are actively performing today.
The band has six members. Barthelemy Attisso is the lead guitarist. Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis lend their vocals along with Sidibe playing the timbals and drums and Gomis playing the maracas and clave. Ndiouga Dieng is also a singer along with a competent congas player. Issa Cissoko plays the saxophone while Latfi Benjeloun plays the rhythm guitar.
The 1970s & 1980s
Their distinct West African traditions were fused with Afro-Cuban music to give it a unique touch. They were probably the only Senegalese band that mixed Casamance harmonies along with drumming from southern Senegal. They combined melodies from Morocco and Togo to the Wolof tradition native to northern Senegal.
From 1970 to 1985, Orchestra Baobab recorded 20 vinyl albums that were mostly released on cassette tapes. However, the competition from a new funk-inspired sound called Mbalax inundated Orchestra Baobab in the mid-80s. Eventually, the band members parted ways, and in 1987, the band was no longer in existence. Most of the band members either joined or formed other groups.
However, the only band member who didn’t get back to the musical industry was Barthelemy Attisso. He chose a completely different career, and returned to Togo to practice law. When the group re-formed in 2001, he hadn’t touched a guitar in over a decade.
Another interesting thing about one of their albums was that it gained critical acclaim outside Senegal. This was because it was released by World Circuit records in Europe. The album was called Pirates Choice, which was recorded in 1982, but was released only after seven years in 1989.
Re-formation and the 2000s
Youssou N’Dour and their record label, World Circuit were the reasons why Orchestra Baobab came back together in 2001. This was a little surprising as Youssou N’Dour percussive street style called mbalax was the primary reason why Orchestra Baobab’s popularity decreased in the mid-80s.
Most of the original band members returned to reunite in 2001 and performed in the month of May the same year at London’s Barbican Centre. Since then, Orchestra Baobab has even released two records.
Produced by Youssou N’dour, a Senegalese superstar, their album Specialist in All Styles was released in 2002. Then in 2003, Orchestra Baobab became well-known among the American media when Dave Matthews and Trey Anastasio, musicians filmed a documentary by the name of Trey and Dave go to Africa. Orchestra Baobab’s popularity rose there as the documentary was aired on VH1. In fact, Anastasio and Matthews had visited Senegal and also performed with the band during the program.
Orchestra Baobab also performed in Johannesburg at Live 8. It was a series of concerts that were conducted to end poverty.
October 2007 was the time when leading commentators claimed that Orchestra Baobab had managed to reclaim their place as the pioneers of African pop. The band had released an album called Made in Dakar on World Circuit Records in October 2007, which led to the commentators having a completely different view about them. Finally, in 2009, the band released something called as La Belle Epoque. It was a double-album of some discovered recordings dating back to the 1970s.