Music review: Orchestra Baobab / Carmen Souza

Orchestra Baobab

Orchestra Baobab

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ORIGINALLY formed as house band for The Baobab Club – the place to be seen in 1970s Dakar – Orchestra Baobab now rank among African music’s greatest elder statesmen, having pioneered the fusion of Senegal’s then Cuban-dominated popular music with both indigenous traditions and other hybrid strains, including Congolese rumba and Ghanaian high-life. Nearly 50 years on, ahead of their first album in a decade, the 10-piece’s music retained all its evergreen warmth, vitality and hip-swaying groove, courtesy of a line-up combining several original members with younger recruits.

Orchestra Baobab/Carmen Souza ****

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

They began with a song by co-founder Ndiouga Dieng, who died in November, sung by his son, Alpha, a stunning blend of impassioned, soaring lead vocals and muscular three-part harmonies over pulsing dub beats. Most of the set, however, transported the imagination directly to that sultry Dakar dancefloor, with an irresistible mélange of Latin, Caribbean and African flavours, as earthy as it was sophisticated. Alongside three vocalists, three guitarists interwove diverse chiming, shimmering timbres and traded masterly solos, while alto and baritone sax ran the gamut from sizzling to lyrical, as intricate, ebullient percussion work underpinned the whole.

Portugese-born, of Cape Verdean parentage, opening act Carmen Souza was another of those enchanting surprises that Celtic Connections consistently springs, combining a jazz virtuoso’s vocal technique and range with an array of Lusophone influences, from fado to samba, morna to bossa and much more besides, including a bittersweet, almost Celtic-sounding ballad and a frisky, sunny-hued “Cape Verdean blues” in tribute to the islands’ national drink.

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