Gig review: Orchestra Baobab at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Orchestra Baobab at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds. Picture: Amy Charles
Orchestra Baobab at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds. Picture: Amy Charles
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Orchestra Baobab must be a nightmare for anyone who doesn’t like solos.

Each of the key members of the Senegalese 10-piece have a moment in the spotlight during this joyful set, from guitarist René Sowatche being reluctantly pushed to the front of the stage to showcase his fluid playing to saxophonist Issa Cissoko reveling in the attention as a natural entertainer.

It’s a showmanship that comes of a band who first emerged in 1970 with an Afro-Cuban fusion. They disbanded in 1987, outcompeted by younger blood, only to reform in 2001 due to their growing recognition of the back of the reissued 1982 album Pirate’s Choice.

Time has left its mark on the rotating line up of singers, one of whom passed away last year and is honoured on forthcoming album Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng. He’s replaced by his son Alpha, who helps to make the group multi-generational as well as multi-ethnic and multi-lingual.

Despite this they wisely keep the music rooted in their heritage rather than evolving new sounds. It’s one that’s equally at home with dub inflections, as on opening track ‘Dée Moo Wóor’, as it is salsa and Latin-jazz.

With two percussionists on every track - usually timbales and congas, often with added tambourine – the rhythm is placed at the very centre of the music. And while frontman Balla Sidibe mops his face with a towel, the band make it look effortless to maintain the upbeat pace for 90-minutes.

Orchestra Baobab at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds. Picture: Amy Charles

Orchestra Baobab at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds. Picture: Amy Charles

Orchestra Baobab at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds. Picture: Amy Charles

Orchestra Baobab at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds. Picture: Amy Charles

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