The great Senegalese pop band of the '70s and '80s, Orchestra Baobab reunited after 15 years for 2002's gorgeous Specialist in All Styles. Proving that their unlikely comeback as career peak was no fluke, here's a follow-up that's almost as great.
Made in Dakar mixes newly performed versions of all-but-unknown-in-these-parts West African standards (including the sure-shot trifecta that opens the record) with new songs. While it's not as gravely beautiful or immediately bracing as Specialist in All Styles, Made in Dakar is as lovely and deep a collection of new music as anyone's likely to release this year.
Afropop tends to be a very vocal form, but the true stars of Orchestra Baobob are a pair of players. Guitarist Barthélemy Attisso spins indelible melodies and launches entrancing grooves with his vibrant but deliberate style. Though more of a soloist, Attisso is somewhat like Stax stalwart Steve Cropper in that his guitar heroism is based on precision, nuance, and a lack of flash. Sax man Issa Cissoko offers droll, elegant counterpart. American Afropop dabblers are more likely to be familiar with the funk-like punch of Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela's horn sections, but Cissoko's work is more akin to boardwalk soul and Latin jazz.
Attisso and Cissoko lead a band whose stuttering rhythms have more in common with Cuba than central or southern Africa. The unavoidable comparison is the Cuban rehab project Buena Vista Social Club, but Orchestra Baobab is better — less folkie, more organic, not as molded by an outside producer. Made in Dakar is great groove music for body and soul. — Chris Herrington