Orchestra Baobab Biography

Formed in 1970 as the weekend house band at a Dakar club for government officials, Orchestra Baobab (aka Orchestre Du Bawobab) were early Senegalese fusionists who paved the way for artists such as Youssou N’Dour and Touré Kunda. The original line-up included Baro N’Diaye (saxophone), Barthelemy Attisso (guitar), Latfi Benjeloum (guitar), Charlie N’Diaye (bass), Mountage Koite (drums) and singers Laye Mboup (d. 1974), Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis. M’Boup, a popular Wolof griot singer, was the original lead vocalist on the band’s Cuban-style hits ‘N’Diaye’ and ‘Yaraf’. Later recruits included horn player Issa Cissoko, a John Coltrane disciple who brought a strong jazz influence, Peter Udo (clarinet), Ndiouga Dieng (vocals) and Thione Seck (vocals). The latter was brought in after the death of Mboup in a 1974 car crash.

Originally the group drew on material inherited from Senegalese legends the Star Band, establishing a residency at the Baobab Club (whence they took their name) for seven years in the early 70s. However, following a management change in April 1977 they took their Latin/Cuban influenced music (with Spanish or Kriolu - Portugese Creole - lyrics) to the Djandeer/Kilimanjaro CluIn that year they also released a total of five albums. Although atrociously produced and poorly distributed, they at least served to announce the vibrancy of the band’s material, lent added maturity by their many performances together. A brief stand at the Balafon Hotel followed before an offer to relocate to Paris, France, in June 1978, was accepted. However, a lack of adequate promotion and arrangements ensured the stay was not a happy one, and after trying their luck in the Marseilles expatriate Senegalese community they returned home at the end of the year. They soon discovered that the musical climate at home had changed with the arrival of artists such as N’Dour, another Star Band alumnus who was busy pioneering the mbalax sound.

Orchestra Baobab persevered with their sound at the Ngalam for a time, but lost most of the nucleus of the band as rewards diminished. By the mid-80s only Sidibe remained from the original group, and he soon realized the risk of continually ignoring the prevailing musical developments. The ‘new’ Orchestra was introduced in 1985 with instruments such as the tamar drum and sabar, plus female singers and more focused, political lyrics. Despite the radical change, they still found it hard to recover lost ground, despite the return of original singer Gomis, and disbanded in 1987.

In the new millennium, an expanded reissue of the excellent 1982 recording Pirates Choice by World Circuit Records sparked a new wave of interest in Orchestra Baobab, prompting Sidibe, Gomis, Dieng, Attisso, Benjeloum and N’Diaye to re-form the band and begin recording again. The band’s recordings in the 00s proved to be as vibrant and colourful as their classic albums from the late 70s and early 80s.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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