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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Senegal's supergroup bounces back
Orchestra Baobab
Orchestra Baobab back on stage in New York

Rudy Gomis looks at the New York skyscrapers from the window of a Manhattan coffee shop, shakes his head in delighted disbelief and a big happy grin brightens his face.

"When we were flying out from Dakar, the Senegalese national football team was just coming back from the World Cup," he remembers.

"We shook hands in the airport and they told us:' We showed the world what good football is. You showed them what good music means'."

We are all musicians. We lived for music, through music.

Rudy Gomis of Orchestra Baobab
For the past two weeks, Orchestra Baobab and its lead singer Rudy Gomis, have been doing just that.

New York was one of the many stops on the European and US tour by one of Senegal's oldest bands.

Denmark, Holland and San Francisco have already been already checked off on the itinerary. Still ahead are Cleveland, Chicago, Italy and England.

At every concert there has been a standing ovation, a packed audience and an emotional performance by a group of veteran musicians who thought that their hey days were well in the past.

Generations raised on the music

In 1960s and 1970s, Orchestra Baobab was one of Senegal's and Africa's most popular bands.

Generations of Senegalese were raised on the creative fusion of the Orchestra's West African griot singing and Latin rumba tunes, their multilingual repertoire of songs in French, Spanish and local African languages, the captivating sounds of Issa Cissoko's saxophone and elaborate solos of Barthelemy Attisso's guitar.

But in the beginning of 1980s, the young Youssou N'dour introduced Senegal to mbalax, an energetic mix of percussion and acoustic guitar. Orchestra Baobab's more relaxed Latin style became outdated.

Some of the band members continued to play in the hotels of Dakar. Others retired from music completely.

Orchestra Baobab
Baobab's lead singer Rudy Gomis in action

Guitarist Barthelemy Attisso worked in a law practice in his native Togo. Rudy Gomis became a French and Wolof teacher in Dakar.

Saying good-bye to the Orchestra was painful.

Dream come true

"We are all musicians. We lived for music, through music. When the Orchestra fell apart, we all had to go through a huge adjustment, from superstars to making a day-to-day living. I dreamt of reviving the Orchestra, but financially it was simply unfeasible," says Gomis.

The dream came true nearly 20 years later, when in 2000 the London based production house World Circuit found some of Orchestra Baobab's old tapes and offered the band a gig in London and the re-release of their 1982 album "Pirate's Choice".

"Our first rehearsal in Dakar was unforgettable," says Gomis "We all came together. Atisso left Togo and his law practice, each of us dropped what he was doing to give the orchestra another chance.

"We looked at each other, picked up the instruments and played as if we have never been apart."

According to Gomis, the new appreciation members of the band have for each other's talent means they play better music then ever before.

The success of the Orchestra's US trip is proving Gomis right. At their free concert in New York's Central Park hundreds of people went wild to the intoxicating tunes of Afro-Cuban fusion and the Senegalese in the audience sang along to the Baobab's songs.

Senegalese music shop
Will the money be rolling in for Baobab back in Senegal ?

"We grew up on these songs and it's amazing to have them back here after all these years," said Sassy Mboup, a Senegalese who now lives in New York.

"The reception in the United States has been outstanding," says Jenny Cathcart of World Circuit.

"Their music is so complex yet is so easy to listen to. And it's such a crossover of Latin and African, that it really appeals to a very large audience."

Many compare the return of Baobab to the legendary re-appearance of the Cuban Band Buena Vista Social Club, also revived by the World Circuit.

But according to Jenny Cathcart, the comparison should be the other way around. "World Circuit started its search in Africa, it was just worked out that Buena Vista came first," she says.

Ironically the man whose music pushed Orchestra Baobab off the music stage back in 1980s shares the responsibility for bringing the band back.

Youssou N'dour
Youssou N'dour's mbalax took over from older styles

Senegal's legendary singer Youssou N'Dour calls the Baobab "a school, not just an orchestra."

Baobab's US tour is drawing to an end, but still ahead is a tour of Europe and a new album "Orchestra Baobab: Specialists in all Styles" that will be released in September.

The album will feature Orchestra Baobab's old songs and a surprise last track - an improvisation by Rudy Gomis, Youssou N'Dour and Buena Vista Social Club's Ibrahima Ferrero.

For fans of World Music, the return of the Baobab's intoxicating, vibrant tunes is a special treat. For the members of the Orchestra itself it's an emotional comeback to the world stage they conquered and then lost.

Orchestra Baobab
See also:

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