|Orchestra Baobab was an inspired choice to close one of the more impressive lineups Toronto has seen at one single venue in recent years. The 2008 edition of Harbourfronts World Routes witnessed: the sheer madness of a visit from Jamaican dub godfather Lee Scratch Perry; quite possibly the worlds foremost Afrobeat orchestra led by Felas son Seun Kuti & Egypt 80; and appropriately to wind the series down on a gorgeously crisp Toronto night by the lake complete with fireworks, this pan-African gathering of gentlemen who came together 40 years ago at the legendary Club Baobab in Dakar.
Personally, I have seen no more obvious living embodiment of the essential bonds between West African and Cuban music than Orchestra Baobab; indeed, introducing a guest salsa vocalist to the band seems like an idea worth exploring. Playing primarily songs from their new release Made in Dakar as well as favourites from the 1992 recording that reintroduced them to the global music pantheon Specialist in All Styles, the band alternately calmed and enthralled the joyous audience. Slow and languorous claves would seemingly explode out of nowhere into the fiery horn-driven energy which is the hallmark of Afrobeat, and just as quickly, return to a state of soothing grace.
While democracy and equality among friends is obviously central to the bands on-stage ethos, the effortless rhythms and crystal-clear tones of guitarist Barthélemy Attisso truly shone brightest, all the more amazing given his well-documented 15-year absence from playing his instrument while pursuing a law career. The vocalists, led by the charming and grandfatherly Balla Sidibe, patiently coaxed the typically shy Toronto crowd into joining the call-and-response that is the spiritual heartbeat of African music. The percussionists stayed in their pocket, content to let such beautiful melody carry the show. And while I would have appreciated hearing more from the hornmen, each time they stepped forward was a moment of brilliance that was like an African Head Charge pyrotechnic tossed into the crowd.
Anytime you see a collection of musicians in their late 60s take the stage, it is worth savouring because there is a chance you may not witness it again. If that turns out to be the case, Ill know that it happened in a setting that could not have been more appropriate.