Orchestra Baobab – Cheltenham Jazz Festival REVIEW

Since their last performance during their early 2000s reunion, Orchestra Baobab have been nowhere to be seen. Orchestra Baobab are back with full force, with an album in tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, a vocalist from the group who died last year.

The 10 piece ensemble tore the roof off Cheltenham’s big top during one quiet Saturday afternoon at the jazz festival. Their beautifully ornate costumes and instruments matched their exquisitely woven polytonal layers. Their set chopped and shaped by technical and effortless solos.

3A mix of young grins and leathery faces smiled out to each member of the audience. The groups ages span from 27 to 74 but all as youthful and as animated as each other.

From the word go it is clear these are the experts of their genre, Senegalese afro-cuban, with a unique, bespoke rhythm. The quirky riffs show off their mischievous personalities, despite a heavy language barrier. Between them they had one phrase of English, “Thank you”, and a lot of French, which is their second language. Everything else sang in Senegalese. This made the fact that they had the audience wrapped around their little finger all the more impressive. They signalled to clap, we clapped. To sing, we sang. To hush, silence fell upon the tent. It was clear they were invested in their music which was incredibly infectious.

They lapped up the crowds attention and cheering as they performed to entertain with cool dance moves by the saxophone player and plenty of improvisation to keep the performance fresh and the audience on their toes. Yet their enthusiasm put you at ease; it was the kind of performance you could melt into. Sit back and let the music wash over you or lean in and foot tap until the person beside you tells y2ou to stop. They filled the dark big top with rich, bright sounds from all four albums, ending with their much loved Bul Ma Miin, leaving the audience buzzing.

They seamlessly pulled you into their world and sent you spinning whilst barely breaking a sweat. I am very pleased to see that this long running band are back, with as much passion and energy as they had in the 1970s.

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