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"They sound like God": Peter S. Scholtes reviews Orchestra Baobab

Categories: Concert Review

Orchestra Baobab
Dakota Cafe, June 30
Review by Peter S. Scholtes
Images available here.

Orchestra Baobab is the kind of band that makes critics (at least this one) resort to hyperbole and sociology: They sound like God; oh, and they must have heard a rumba before going electric in 1970s Dakar. I've done my best to edu-rave about this ongoing Afropop reunion here and here, but ultimately last night's fun at the Dakota could be understood in terms any rocker would get: Their star player among stars, guitarist Barthelemy Atisso, delivers the same giddy, sensual pleasure in mastery as a Van Halen or a Greg Ginn.

You feel lame applauding his solos: It's like clapping for a sunset -- oh boy, here goes the hyperbole. But halfway through a glass of something red called A Love Supreme, I found myself ready to dive into the liquid Mars splashing around in the candlelight, all because Atisso's echoing and surf-like melancholic Spanish guitar runs seemed to beckon from someplace other than earth, much less an elegant yet blasphemous-to-Coltrane jazz club in Minneapolis.

Onstage, the bespectacled Atisso looks like the mild-mannered Senegalese professional he probably is-one fan tells me he's still a judge in neighboring Togo, the hopelessly corrupt dictatorship fled by local music's Yawo among many others.

The rest of Baobab stays close to home: The group is touring behind its first new album since 2002's sublime, reunion-spurred Specialist in All Styles: The new Made in Dakar (both CDs on World Circuit) was indeed recorded in the city, and was inspired by the group's first club residency there in 20 years. The gig seems to have increased the band's fluidity further: Having begun to dance between tables a few songs in, with women in headdresses taking the stage, the crowd flooded the floor for the standby "Bul ma Miin," many clapping along in lieu of comprehending any lyrics.

Baobab are a dance band, and the Dakota is a sit-down venue, yet the sound was perfect, and the $13 drink strong -- I danced God and saw rumba.


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