Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng, the highly acclaimed new album from West Africa's iconic dance-band Orchestra Baobab, is the band's first album in nearly a decade – arriving almost half a century since their formation. Recorded locally in Moussa X's Dakar studio, the new material sounds fresh and yet reassuringly familiar, retaining the ripeness of the sound that made Orchestra Baobab a legend but interpreted with a vigor and vibrancy – and with a few twists – that are vital and captivating.
As enduring as the mighty African Baobab tree from which the group derives its name, the veteran core of the band remains as strong and sturdy as ever. Vocalists Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis, saxophonists Issa Cissoko and Thierno Koite and the long-serving, rock-steady rhythm section of Balla Sidibe on timbales, Charlie Ndiaye on bass and Mountaga Koite on congas. Alongside this impressive continuity there have been changes in the 10 years since Baobab's last World Circuit album – Made in Dakar – but they have been executed seamlessly. Guitarist Barthelemy Attisso, now a lawyer in Togo, is absent due to the demands of his day job but kora player Abdouleye Cissoko from the Casamance region in southern Senegal is a welcome addition.
It's the first time Baobab has numbered a kora player in its permanent ranks but Cissoko's rippling strings have blended seamlessly into the sound and lent a fresh dynamic. Elsewhere Baobab's distinctive two-saxophone attack – which combines the vibrato laden declamatory style of Issa Cissoko with the softer more lyrical playing of Thierno Koite – has been bolstered by trombonist Wilfried Zinzou and the young virtuosic guitarist Rene Sowatche, both from the fertile musical pastures of Benin.
Veteran vocalist Balla Sidibe is a commanding presence on the album with his triple threat of musical influences – Manding from Guinea/Mali, creole from Casamance and Afro-Cuban. Two special guests memorably add their voices to the mix. Cheikh Lo dropped by the studio to add his soulful tones to "Magno Kouto" and Thione Seck, who left Baobab in 1979 for a career as one of West Africa's biggest solo stars, reunites with his old bandmates for the first time in over 35 years to reprise his first hit "Sey."
This, their third album since their felicitous comeback – produced by Nick Gold, Lamine Faye and Jerry Boys – is an irresistible mix of velvet harmonies, warm and heartfelt vocals, smoky sax and sweetly shimmering kora and guitar lines, expertly crafted and masterfully delivered with a poise and virtuosity built up over a lifetime. We give you Orchestra Baobab: specialist in all styles, still going strong and still growing...