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Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndouga Dieng

Geno Thackara By

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There's no rule for pinpointing the exact spot where a group goes from group to institution. If you have to ask whether a certain name has reached that point, that probably means the answer is no—but if we're talking about a widely loved ensemble with a 47-year history, it should be a good bet that they've made it and then some. The Orchestra Baobab may have been inactive for one stretch of time since forming in 1970, but nobody will hold that against them here, especially based on the vitality they show with Tribute to Ndouga Dieng.

That vitality is especially pronounced in light of the band losing a vital voice in late 2016. The titular tribute makes a regrettable circumstance for the Afro-Cuban outfit's first release since Made in Dakar (World Circuit, 2007)—Dieng's singing had been a staple of the band's sound since their earliest days, and the feeling is fittingly similar yet different with his son Alpha Dieng stepping up. Even with an inevitable lamentation in spots, though, the overall tone is one of rousing celebration—which really makes the best tribute they could offer.

The sounds of Senegal are represented with a newly prominent presence of kora throughout, the twanging of harp strings beautifully intertwined with Rene Sowatche's dynamic sunny guitar tones. Meanwhile, the South American half of the band's primary equation is filled in with a triple-horn line at home with creole and Cuban jazz. The mix doesn't sound like a fusion of elements so much as a natural complement of parts that have always gone together. Revisiting the samba piece "Sey" from the '70s (complete with guest spot by old colleague Thione Seck), swaying through the sumptuous tango of "Natalia" or making beautifully classic West African voice harmonies through the likes of "Magnokouto," the players are always willing to add each proper part to the whole without any need to stand out.

Any seasoned ensemble could turn out a solid professional performance in their sleep—and many do—but this Orchestra is a long way from coasting on routine. They devote this Tribute to Dieng and the music itself with a spirit that's ageless, remaining full of sparks and always willing to cross borders in search of something new.

Track Listing: Foulo; Fayinkounko; Natalia; Magnokouto; Mariama; Woulinewa; Sey; Caravana; Douga; Alekouma.

Personnel: Issa Cissoko: saxophone; Thierno Koite: saxophone; Balla Sidibe: timbale; Charlie Ndiaye: bass; Mountaga Koite: congas; Abdouleye Cissoko: kora; Wilfried Zinzou: trombone; Rene Sowatche: guitar; Alpha Dieng, Balla Sidibe, Rudy Gomis, Cheikh Lo, Thione Seck: vocals.

Title: Tribute to Ndouga Dieng | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: World Circuit

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