Orchestra Baobab | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Orchestra Baobab

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Since reuniting in 2001, Senegal's Orchestra Baobab hasn't channeled much energy into creating new music: the superb Specialist in All Styles (World Circuit/Nonesuch, 2002), the band's sole new recording since it broke up in 1987, was mostly rerecordings of older gems. Those tracks have a clarity that was missing from the old versions, though, and clearly Orchestra Baobab is eager to present its timeless sound to the growing Western audience that didn't get a chance to experience it the first time around. I'd love to hear them focus more on new material, but their previous Chicago shows have been so strong it's hard to complain. The group formed in 1970 to play the Cuban music that had become popular in Dakar thanks to records brought in by visiting Cuban sailors. Within a few years, however, it began to incorporate native Wolof elements into a fusion that would be widely imitated and refined in West Africa. Their originals had Mandinka lyrics and used distinctly Islamic melodic forms indigenous to Senegal's Casamance region; a number of vocalists, including Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis, who are still with the group, merged Afro-Cuban improvisation and deeply soulful cries. And Barthelemy Attiso's biting guitar solos drew freely on everything he was hearing. The band's rhythms are usually relaxed in comparison to the hotter grooves their predecessors played, but it doesn't take long for them to turn an audience into a mass of sensually rolling limbs. Fri 3/25, 7:30 and 10:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $30.

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