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Orchestra Baobab
Specialist in All Styles
Nonesuch

By Marie Elsie St. Léger

Published April 26, 2006

For their first Stateside tour this past summer, Dakar’s Orchestra Baobab stuck to the basics: solid musicianship, tight arrangements and unfussy presentation. Wise move. After only one tune, Baobab had a naturally wary New York audience dancing happily, and the group held the crowd in its thrall for more than an hour. Led by vocalists and original band members Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis, Baobab sampled songs from its first album in 15 years, Specialist in All Styles, melding Afro-Cuban son and traditional rhythms from Senegal and other West African countries. That fusion of Cuba and Africa drives Specialist just as strongly. The slow and seductive “Dee Moo Wor” features fiery guitar work by Barthelemy Attiso backed by complex percussive patterns of southern Senegal; the lively party requisite “Gnawa” features more of Atisso’s fine solos and saxman Issa Cissoko’s playful lines. But in case you’re still missing the Cuba-Senegal connection, Buena Vista Social Club darling Ibrahim Ferrer and Specialist co-producer Youssou N’dour join Sidibe and Gomis on the winning “Hommage à Tonton Ferrer.” Listen to Ferrer’s trademark improvised verbiage and Orchestra Baobab’s infectious rhythms and resist the urge to dance if you can.

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