Viva Cuba Y Senegal

The Latin heritage becomes more salient with "Jiin Ma Jiin Ma." Two saxophones fence with and loop around one another into a salsa accentuating Rudy Gomis, who, in concert, did the best George Benson-scat-with-guitar impression I've seen in years. The album really hits its stride when baby-faced youngblood Assane Mboup, perhaps the best vocalist of the many great ones here, is showcased on "Ndongoy Daara," originally composed and sung by Baobab's legendary Wolof singer Laye Mboup (who died in a car accident in 1974). The younger Mboup's pitch-defying alto deftly recalls both his predecessor's range and the distinguished call of BVSC alum Ibrahim Ferrer. And then, lo and behold, Ferrer himself appears with Youssou himself in "Hommage à Tonton Ferrer," a remake of "Utru Horas" off of 1982's Pirates Choice. As lilting and languid as Baobab's bolero side gets, "Hommage" has African musicians singing a tribute in Wolof to an Afro-Cuban maestro, who responds lovingly in beautiful Spanish, "I'm not going to forget this meeting . . . Viva Cuba y Senegal!"

The connection is sealed with the superb guajira-son "El Son Te Llama." If you really want to have fun, dig out your copy of the Afro-Cuban All Stars' 1997 A Toda Cuba Le Gustaand play "Amor Verdadero," composed by José "Cheo" Marquetti a half-century ago. Where the Cuban version's heavy horn arrangement concentrates on the melody, Baobab's cranks the pace and relies on the rhythm, emphasizing Charlie Ndiaye's scampering bass and the reverberating guitar of principal arranger Barthélemy Attisso. Medoune Diallo's seductive croon, meanwhile, magnificently twists and turns the Spanish lyrics.

Enduring like the tree whose name they bear
photo: Youri Lenquette
Enduring like the tree whose name they bear

Orchestra Baobab have proved they can endure like the tree whose name they bear—don't call it a comeback, they've been here for years. Mama said knock you out.

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