Mk.2 of Dakar's finest just keep getting better...
Jon Lusk 2007
When Senegal's number one cult band returned from the wilderness in 2002 after a sixteen year hiatus, most old fans were so thrilled they forgave the fact that their comeback album, Specialist In All Styles, relied entirely on reworkings of items from their admittedly glittering back catalogue, and found them a wee bit rusty in places.
This second effort by Orchestra Baobab Mk. 2 comes in the wake of five years back in business as a working band and is the product of a tighter and brighter unit. Even if they are still leaning quite heavily on old material, it's generally songs that are less familiar to a non-Senegalese audience, often shedding light on their roots and influences. They're also revamped with a more zestful, live-in-the-studio feel, the band is beefed up by extra brass and percussion, and the new compositions are pure, vintage Baobab.
As ever, their foremost instrumental star is lead guitarist Barthélemy Attisso, whose fluid but never florid licks continuously percolate through the music, occasionally emerging for exquisitely timed solo spots, as on "Aline" – a lovely relaxed tribute to Congolese rumba – and, more grittily on "Ndéleng Ndéleng". A driving piece based on the mbalax rhythm, it also features a strong lead vocal from the youngest of their five singers, Assane Mboup. If he sounds a bit like Youssou N'Dour, that's maybe because he's one of N'dour's protégés, and the two trade verses brilliantly on ''Nijaay''.
Praise should also go to Issa Cissoko, who decorates his own gorgeously smoochy calypso ''Bikowa'' with an utterly beseeching solo. And what about percussionist Mountaga Koite, whose deft, insistent cymbal work powers the likes of ''Ami Kita Bay'' and ''Colette''? I could go on. The latter closes the album on a slightly unusual note – blending reggae, '70s soul and a dash of boogaloo into something like Senegalese ska. Yes, that is the Buena Vista Social Club's Jesus 'Aguaje' Ramos on trombone, but there’s no falling into the trap of gratuitous celebrity cameos. How could there be when Orchestra Baobab have so many outstanding talents of their own?