No matter how good “Specialist in All Styles” sounds — and it sounds very good — perhaps nothing can compete with “Pirates Choice,” Orchestra Baobab’s treasure chest of Afro-Cuban cool that was recorded in 1982 and reissued earlier this year. Recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, “Pirates Choice” epitomizes the glory of spontaneity and analog technology — on each tune the guitar, bass, drums, sax and vocals bleed into each other much as their Cuban influences meld with their West African foundations. It was the extraordinary popularity of this reissue that prompted the orchestra to reunite and record “Specialist.”
Throughout the 1970s, Orchestra Baobab were the reigning kings of Senegalese dance music. They are named after the Baobab Hotel, the prestigious venue that launched them as its house band. Senegal’s societal elite at the time eschewed traditional African music as embarrassingly primitive, preferring Western sounds. But their attitude soon came under siege by a generation of musicians who were fiercely proud of their Senegalese heritage, none of whom expressed it better than Youssou N’Dour. N’Dour immediately captured the attention of the nation and before long, the orchestra was a band without an audience.
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