Going ten years between albums is no big deal for Senegal's Orchestra Baobab, whose integration of West African and Afro-Cuban styles made them a sensation in 1970. After cutting more than 20 albums between then and 1987, they split up for 15 years. They reunited for a tour in 2001, just as 1989's classic Pirates Choice was reissued by World Circuit. They followed the tour with the killer set Specialist in All Styles, comprised of new material, a year later. (It was produced by Youssou N'Dour.) After more international touring, local residencies, and family commitments, it took another six years for Made in Dakar to materialize, but it was worth the wait.
Any band with a 47-year history has seen changes; OB is no exception. These began in 1974 when their original Wolof singer Laye Mboup was killed in a car crash. The band's two great Casamance vocalists, Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis, enlisted Ndiouga Dieng -- the subject of this tribute -- to fill his shoes. Dieng was an active member until his death in 2016. (He was replaced by his son for this recording.) Founding guitarist Barthelemy Attisso, from Togo, also left to pursue his law career full-time. Sidibe, Gomis, saxophonists Issa Cissoko and Thierno Koite, and longtime rhythm section -- bassist Charlie Ndiaye and conguero Mountaga Koite -- remain the core. (Sidibe also plays timbales.) New rhythm guitarist Yahya Fall (Etoile de Dakar) joins the section with Oumar Sow and Rene Sowatche. For the first time in their history, they have a kora player in Abdouleye Cissoko, and the trademark sax section gets a boost in the bottom end from new trombonist Wilfried Zinzou.
This version of the band doesn't burn so much as it simmers, and it's a wonderful thing. On opener "Foulo," the interplay between guitars and kora creates a gentle sway. The horns and percussion don't strut, they slide. The Casamance vocalists glide over the top of the rhythm section, creating a great vibe for dancing or romancing. Following suit is the single "Fayinkounko," with its R&B-styled horn lines, hypnotic percussion, and bubbling dubwise bass. The stringed instruments all trade places while painting the tune's frame. "Natalia" is an Afro-Cuban son at heart, with sultry saxophone exchanges and punchy guitars and drums kissed by Cissoko's bright kora to create contrast. Former Baobab member and African singing superstar Thione Seck rejoins the band in order to reprise his first hit with them in a smoking version of "Sey." Likewise, Cheikh Lo also guests on "Magnokouto," a gorgeous marriage of Northern Senegalese pop and pachanga. "Caravana" weds a rhumba-esque bolero to sweet griot soul. In sum, Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng may delineate a new phase for this band in the studio, but the music on offer is satisfying; it's deeper and wider and the elements of joy are untouched by time. And make no mistake, it still slides down the spine toward the belly to create an almost irresistible temptation to dance. ~ Thom Jurek