Nearly 40 years after first forming in Dakar, Senegal, Orchestra Baobab remains one of the world's foremost purveyors of Afro-Cuban pop. The ten-piece group is currently on tour in support of its latest album, Made in Dakar. This performance was recorded live from the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va.
Orchestra Baobab got its start in 1970 as the house band for the newly opened Club Baobab in Dakar. Saxophonist Baro N'Diaye and bassist Sidathe Ly formed the group after luring several members away from the legendary Star Band, whose alumni included Youssou N'Dour. Throughout the '70s, Orchestra Baobab drew a large following for its innovative marriage of Cuban jazz with local roots and African rhythms and languages.
Club Baobab closed in 1979. While Orchestra Baobab continued to play, the group eventually disbanded in 1987 when the popularity of Afro-Cuban pop gave way to Mbalax, a new music style championed by N'Dour.
In 2001, Nick Gold, the producer behind the wildly popular rebirth of Buena Vista Social Club, decided to reissue Orchestra Baobab's classic Pirate's Choice album. The move proved to be the spark needed to reunite the band's members, many of whom hadn't played music in years.
"I couldn't play anymore," guitarist Barthelemy Attisso says in an interview with NPR's Banning Eyre. "My fingers couldn't find the right frets. I couldn't even make chords. It really upset me to have lost all that God gave me."
But Attisso and the other members quickly recovered what they'd lost and soon embarked on a European and U.S. tour. In 2002, they released Specialist in All Styles, featuring Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer. They followed in 2006 with A Night at Club Baobab and the recent Made in Dakar.