Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-07-31

2012-07-31

Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Époque 1971-1977 (Syllart, 2009) This two-CD import has many discographical drawbacks. The adequate audio on the first disc, all or most of which was recorded live without audience in an empty club, could be more forceful and distinct. It shares the preponderance of its second disc with Nick Gold's On Verra Ça comp and a few tracks with the somewhat superior archive dig N'Wolof. Individual selections have been reinterpreted on Baobab's reunion CDs, picked up on this or that Afrocomp, and/or recycled on cheesier reissues. So as an economic matter this iteration of their early recordings, trending Latin and also often featuring Laye M'Boup--although note Rudy Gomis's star turn on the climactic "Yen Saay," which does have a studio sheen--may seem a redundant extravagance to some old fans. If so, however, I urge them to seek out not just "Yen Saay" but the gorgeous "Baobab Gouye Gui"/"Geeja Ngala Riir"/"Samaxol Fatou Diop" sequence, preceding it with "Jarraf" if they don't know N'Wolof, where it's called "Yaraf." Also, um, "Ndaga"/"El Vagabonde" up front is pretty sweet. Et cetera. B+

Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Époque: Volume 2 1973-1976 (Syllart, 2012) Proud owner of their early N'Wolof, which focuses on the pioneering Wolof traditionalist Laye M'Boup, and of the late-'70s Paris sessions released decades ago as On Verra Ça, I thought I had all the early Baobab I needed and most of what there was. Now I doubt that even this follow-up to the 1971-77 first volume reviewed below gets it all. As Florent Mazzoleni's français-seulement notes make (somewhat) clear, they released many (shortish) albums back when they were the toast of the post-colonial elite at downtown Dakar's Club Baobab. Salsa was the rage of Senegal's emergent ruling class, and there was always clave near the heart of Baobab's groove. But cosmopolitanism was also on the agenda of a multitribally multilingual unit that could bring off its worldwide ambitions because its band sound was as solid and unmistakable as the Rolling Stones'. Hear them run King Curtis over Jimmy Cliff on "Issa Soul" or go all-out JB on "Kelen Kati Leen," try an uptempo blues on "Sey" or a careful bolero on "Cabral," remember their roots on "Nidiaye" or stretch out San Francisco-style on "Sibou Odia." Hear Togolese Bartelemy Attisso run the show without ever hogging the spotlight. A-

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