Posts Tagged ‘world circuit’

A Beginner’s Guide to Orchestra Baobab

Posted on July 6th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

Orchestra Baobab

Orchestra Baobab photo by Youri Lenquette

Garth Cartwright marvels at the long-lasting appeal of the Senegalese band

This article originally appeared in Songlines #126. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit:

A simple, repetitive figure is picked on an electric guitar; it’s a serpentine sound and one of the most seductive in African music. Someone whistles enthusiastically, the drummer announces his arrival and the bass quietly slips in before a fat, juicy saxophone begins painting a picture of a tropical night sky. Then a voice, sleepy yet radiant, starts speak-singing. This is ‘Utrus Horas’, the opening tune on Pirates Choice, eight minutes and 43 seconds of stirring aural delight and a song that, over the past 35 years, has enchanted listeners across the world. ‘Utrus Horas’ is one of those recordings that sounds so distinctive, so evocative, it instantly conjures up images of West Africa as a land of sensual, elegiac pleasures. And the band who created this velvet smooth music of surprise and enchantment are Orchestra Baobab, an outfit who formed in Dakar, Senegal, in 1970 and who are about to release a fine new album.

Not that the Orchestra Baobab story is quite that simple. The original band came together around saxophonist Baro N’Diaye simply to play a Saturday night residency at the Baobab Club, a new Dakar club named after the famously squat West African tree. Baro poached five musicians from the Star Band – then Dakar’s most popular club band – and, with a couple of other young players, created a set that relied on both Cuban standards (Cuban dance music having gained great popularity in West Africa), alongside an infusion of West African music, encouraged by the independence movement in neighbouring Guinea for local artistry.

Baobab’s musicians found themselves creating an effortless blend of Latin and African music, and by bringing in musicians from different tribal regions they featured both Mandinka and Wolof singers who, throughout the 70s, established themselves as Senegal’s most popular band. Their fluid lineup saw a variety of musicians come and go until the core of the band was established by the late 70s: vocalists Ndiouga Dieng (a Wolof griot), Balla Sidibe and Thione Seck; saxophonist Issa Cissoko and guitarist Barthélémy Attisso from Togo.

While Baobab’s line-up continued to fluctuate – being working musicians, members would leave to join other bands or pursue different projects – their popularity remained strong and the band’s distinctive saxophone and guitar sound marked them out as something special. So much so that in 1978, they travelled to France in search of European stardom. While they enjoyed some prowess in Paris – including being hired to play at the wedding of fashion designer Pierre Cardin’s daughter – this adventure turned out to be unprofitable and the band returned to Dakar in 1979.

By now the Baobab club had closed but the band were so popular they could perform all over Senegal, commanding fees of US $4,500 a show. They regularly recorded and released cassettes and it was a 1982 cassette, soon to be known internationally as Pirates Choice, that featured the six songs that would establish Orchestra Baobab internationally. Ironically, as these songs began winning them fans in Paris and London, Orchestra Baobab were being overtaken in Senegal by a young musician who had left the Star Band to go solo: Youssou N’Dour. His more percussive, funk-influenced sound appealed to the young and Baobab desperately tried to keep up by changing their sound – even hiring two female vocalists at one point.

Yet it was not to be and, in 1987, Orchestra Baobab called it a day. By then Thione Seck had left the band and established himself as one of Senegal’s most popular solo artists while Attisso left music to set up a law practice. When the British label World Circuit released Pirates Choice in 1989, Charlie Gillett and John Peel championed Baobab on their radio shows. In 2001 World Circuit reissued it as a double CD and such was the acclaim that greeted this edition that the band’s core members, all now middle aged and settled down, agreed to reform for a European tour.

Their triumphant return to London’s Barbican Centre in May 2001 launched them onto the Western world music festival and tour circuit. Yet unlike their Parisian experience in 1978, Baobab now found large audiences cheering them across the world. They returned to the studio in 2002, releasing Specialist in All Styles album, which won two BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music. Ironically, in Senegal Orchestra Baobab are now deemed old-fashioned but they continue to command a wide international following.

This month sees the band release a new album, Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, in honour of one of their long-standing original vocalists who died in November 2016. For several years Dieng’s son Alpha had been a member of the band, following the griot tradition of father teaching son the techniques needed to be a master vocalist.

Ironically veteran guitarist Barthélémy Attisso has chosen to sit this one out and focus on his law firm so the band have drafted in kora player Abdouleye Cissoko from the Casamance region in southern Senegal – the first time the group have numbered a kora player in its permanent ranks but Cissoko’s rippling strings have blended seamlessly into the sound and lent a fresh dynamic. There’s also a trombonist, Wilfred Zinzou, another first for Baobab.

It is this willingness to consistently push their lush yet imaginative sound forward that stops Orchestra Baobab simply existing as a nostalgia act.


heart-of-the-moonPirates Choice (World Circuit, 2001)

These seminal 1982 recordings are remastered here with six extra tracks (also excellent) and sleeve notes by the late, great Charlie Gillett. Perfection!






boulevard-de-lindependanceSpecialist in All Styles (World Circuit, 2002)

Having reformed and toured widely, a rejuvenated Orchestra Baobab entered the studio and proved they were way more than a nostalgia act. A strong return that shows the band sounding like they’d never been away. A Top of the World review in #14.




the-mande-variationsMade in Dakar (World Circuit, 2007)

A delightful mix of new compositions with some classic hits from their 70s heyday, the band sound better than ever. The Songlines review described them as ‘the Senegalese Skatalites’ in #47.





ali-toumaniLa Belle Époque (Syllart, 2009)

For fans of Pirates Choice and more recent efforts, this double CD of their early stuff shows a nightclub band developing their distinctive blend of African and Latin music. Not as polished as their more famous releases but still very tasty. Reviewed in #62.





toumani-sidikiTribute to Ndiouga Dieng (World Circuit, 2017)

This album features few of the original members – although Thione Seck returns to sing on one song for the first time in decades while disciple Cheikh Lô also drops by – and thus features a younger line-up pushing forth a classic yet not imitative sound. An inspired effort. Reviewed in #127.




toumani-sidikiMahmoud Ahmed, Éthiopiques Vol 6: Almaz (Buda Musique, 1999)

TAs with Pirates Choice, the release of this album blew minds when released by Buda and won Mahmoud Ahmed a wide following across the West. The album offers a north-east African hybrid akin to Baobab’s in its use of Latin and soul flavours while sounding even more exotic and eerie.



This article originally appeared in Songlines #126. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit:

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World Circuit to re-issue Oumou Sangaré’s Moussolou in May

Posted on April 22nd, 2016 in News, Recent posts by .

Oumou Sangare Alioune Ba onstage singing close up

Oumou Sangaré’s groundbreaking debut album, Moussolou, will be re-issued on World Circuit on May 27

Oumou Sangaré was only 20 years old when she travelled to the JBZ Studio in Ivory Coast to record her debut in 1989. Released the next year, it caused a sensation; her unique voice, minimalist arrangements and powerful lyricism based on the empowerment of women and criticism of traditional practices became the soundtrack to life in Mali and eventually went on to sell close to a quarter of a million copies.

World Circuit are to re-issue the seminal album in CD, vinyl and downloadable formats on May 27. Stream the album on the record label’s SoundCloud profile.

Oumou will tour with Les Amazones d’Afrique this summer, who will be making an appearance at this year’s WOMAD Charlton Park.

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Ali Farka Touré – a beginner’s guide

Posted on October 31st, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .


An introduction to the great Malian blues guitarist, by Nigel Williamson

Recorded shortly before his death in 2006, Ali Farka Touré’s Savane took him to new heights of critical acclaim. “Absolutely perfect – a truly great piece of work,” was the judgement of Ry Cooder and it’s impossible to find a single voice raised in disagreement. The album not only topped Songlines albums of the year but also nestled alongside Bob Dylan and the Arctic Monkeys in the lists in rock magazines Mojo and Uncut, the latter’s reviews editor taking time out from his unswerving passion for the White Stripes to rave about Ali’s ‘instinctual and wonderfully entrancing’ music. Savane even made the pop charts (admittedly its 30-something peak would have disappointed U2 but it was still higher than any African record since Ladysmith Black Mambazo were catapulted into the top 20 by a baked beans commercial).

Born in the village of Kanau on the banks of the River Niger in north-west Mali in 1939, when still a boy he moved down the river to Niafunke, where he lived on-and-off for the rest of his life. A devout Muslim, he also had a profound belief in the power of the djinns, or spirits, believed to inhabit the Niger river and as a boy was captivated by the traditional music played at village ceremonies to summon them. He made his first instrument, a one-string guitar known as a djerkel at the age o f 12, graduating to a borrowed six-string instrument in 1956. After years spent absorbing a vast repertoire of traditional music from different ethnic sources including Sonrai, Peul and Tamaschek, it was not until 1968 that he first heard American music when a friend in Bamako played him imported records by James Brown, Albert King and John Lee Hooker. He always insisted he was not influenced by them; merely struck by the similarities of blues and funk rhythms to West African music.

By the 70s, he had moved to Bamako, where he spent a decade working as an engineer for Radio Mali and recording regularly acoustic guitar recitals for the station. The best of these early recordings were later compiled on Radio Mali (World Circuit, 1996). Although the recording techniques are rudimentary, the tracks possess an undeniable power and in 1975, he sent tapes of them to the Son Afric label in Paris. A few months later his first recording appeared in France on vinyl LP. Over the next few years, the label released six more LPs, all recorded in Bamako. The original albums are now hard to find, but two of them, recorded in the early 80s, were later released as the two CD set Red & Green (World Circuit, 2004).

Yet by the 80s, Ali had virtually retired from professional music, returning to Niafunke to farm his land. It was only after he was famously tracked down by World Circuit’s Anne Hunt that he was persuaded in 1987 to play his first concerts outside Africa since a solitary appearance at a festival in Bulgaria in 1968.

While in London, he cut his first album to be recorded outside Mali. Although still sounding raw and earthy, Ali Farka Touré (1988) benefitted hugely from Nick Gold’s simple but sensitive production. It was followed by The River (1990), which found him rocking out on electric guitar on more than half the tracks and sounding harder-edged and bluesier than ever before. The Source (1992) was another advance, recorded with a full band and including two fine duets with the American bluesman Taj Mahal, recorded backstage in a dressing room in Norwich, of all improbable locations.

These recordings gave Gold the idea of taking Ali to the US to record an album of guitar duets with Ry Cooder. The result was the Grammy-winning Talking Timbuktu (1994). After that, he became increasingly reluctant to leave his farm on the banks of the River Niger and there were just two more solo albums. To make Niafunke (1999), Gold had to travel with a mobile studio and generator to record in Ali’s village. It’s a hugely atmospheric recording, although its reputation has suffered – probably unfairly – by being sandwiched between his two undisputed masterpieces in Talking Timbuktu and Savane. At the same productive sessions at the Hotel Mande, Bamako that produced Savane, Ali also recorded In The Heart Of The Moon (2006), a beautiful album of guitar-kora duets with Toumani Diabaté. A second album of duets – Ali and Toumani – recorded with Diabaté in London in the summer of 2005 was released by World Circuit in 2010 and was a Top of the World recording in Songlines #66.

Best Albums


(World Circuit, 2006)

The last is the one to buy first. Justifiably sub-titled ‘The King o f the Desert Blues Singers’ in a homage to the classic Robert Johnson IP, it’s an album of such profound depths that it really sounds as i f his entire career was spent ramping up to this masterpiece.



ali-and-toumaniAli and Toumani

(World Circuit, 2010)

‘Kala Djula’ is perhaps the album’s most enchanting tune, like an African cousin to Henry Purcell’s ‘Lillibullero’. At the very end of the record, Ali’s voice is heard saying ‘Eh, voilà’, as if suggesting that that’s it; it’s perfect and there’s really nothing left to say.



toure-heartIn The Heart Of The Moon

(World Circuit, 2005)

Wonderfully fluid and spontaneous-sounding duets between Ali’s acoustic guitar and Toumani Diabate’s rippling kora with contributions from Cooder and Cuban bass player Orlando ‘Cachaito’ lopez added later.




toure-timbuktuTalking Timbuktu

(World Circuit, 1994)

Ali hated LA and the Hollywood studio in which the album was recorded. But he and Cooder emerged with an album of intuitive guitar magic that will be the subject of a Classic Album feature in a future issue of Songlines.




toure-the-sourceThe Source

(World Circuit, 1992)

The first album on which we really heard him let rip on electric guitar and with a bigger band, although there are some fine acoustic tracks too. Taj Mahal and Nitin Sawhney make fine cameo appearances.





Top 25 Mali Albums

This article originally appeared in Songlines #41. Subscribe to Songlines

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Toumani & Sidiki release new EP

Posted on October 23rd, 2014 in News, Recent posts by .


Photography by Youri Lenquette

Five previously unreleased tracks from Toumani and Sidiki have been made available as a digital-only EP through World Circuit Records

Taken from the recording sessions for their self-titled debut as a duo earlier this year, the five tracks are a welcome extension of this widely-acclaimed album. A Top of the World selection in our 100th issueToumani & Sidiki was only the third album of kora duets ever recorded, and ‘every note in [its] rich tapestry of strings is exquisitely calibrated in the pursuit of perfection’. 

Available now via iTunes or the Toumani & Sidiki website.

European tour dates:

October 29 | Treibhaus, Insbruck, Austria
October 30 | Moods, Zurich, Switzerland
October 31 | La Spirale, Fribourg, Switzerland
November 1| Festival B-Sides / Luzern / Switzerland
November 2 | Palace / St Gallen / Switzerland
November 5 | Porgy and Bess / Vienna / Austria
November 13 | Bozar / Bruxelles / Belgium
November 14 | De Roma / Antwerp / Belgium
November 15 | Rasa / Utrecht / Netherlands
November 17 | Bimhuis / Amsterdam / Netherlands
November 18 | De Centrale / Gent / Belgium

Toumani & Sidiki perform for a BBC 2 live session at Glastonbury 2014:

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