Five years ago Orchestra Baobab made about as fine an argument as you could wish for in support of a band sticking to what it's good at, with their perfectly judged comeback album of laid-back retro Afro-Cuban dance music, Specialist in All Styles.
The band have since been honing that effortlessly relaxed and seductive style at the Just 4 U Club in Dakar, and having decamped to the Senegalese capital’s Xippi studios with World Circuit über-producer Nick Gold, they’ve fashioned another enchanting suite of old favourites and occasional new composition.
As ever, tunes are woven around the crystalline guitar lines of Barthélemy Attisso and snaking tenor saxophone of Issa Cissoko, with a clear, snappy production and the addition of the arresting crack of the sabar drum adding invigorating rhythmic sharpness to the overall sound.
It all works spectacularly well on the reworked Ndéleng Ndéleng, with Assane Mboup faithfully reproducing Thione Seck’s original soaring vocal style, and Attisso at his lyrical guitar-playing best. The early ‘70s Baobab classic Nijaay (featuring Youssou NDour on vocals) is another real treat, Issa Cissoko and alto saxophonist Thierno Koite trading sinuous licks with Attiso over a funky, almost jammed backing. And the lilting, snaking Cabral is pushed and pulled into interesting new shapes by a shifting Cuban guajira rhythm and doo-wop backing vocals.
The band wisely avoid straying too much from their timeless Latin-tinged grooves, but it's pleasing to see one or two interesting steps taken towards the Baobab stylistic experimentation of old - Jirim in particular gallops along on a rhythmic cross between rumba and ska, and the closing track Colette is a perfect evocation of the '70s Latin soul vibe.
So, more of the same but slightly different from the boys, and if you enjoyed Specialist in All Styles you'll be more than ready for another dose of understated Afro-Cuban soul. Made in Dakar certainly hits the spot in style.
This review first appeared in fRoots magazine.