This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of Africa’s greatest bands, Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab. Their epic story begins in the heart of Dakar’s Medina in the late 1960s, and extends across the world and into the 21st century, featuring an extraordinary group of singers and players from across the continent, and encompassing a ground-breaking mix of Afro-Latin styles, international pop, traditional griot music, and an after-dark nightclub ambience of lilting, mellifluous rhythms.
The band owes their start to the entrepreneurial force that was Ibra Kassé, club owner, impresario and founder of the Star Band, whose residency at Dakar’s Club Miami in the mid 60s made it a notoriously lively joint. Here, Kassé’s house band lit up the night with a music flavoured by new rhythms from around the world, all flowing into Dakar – a modern and cosmopolitan city and one of the great ports of west Africa – from America, Europe, and Cuba, as well as from Senegal’s West African neighbours Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. During this period of cultural convergence, Senegalese traditional music was also being heavily championed and promoted by Léopold Senghor, Senegal’s renowned president, poet and cultural theorist. This eclectic blend of local and international rhythms and styles would all later feed into Baobab’s DNA.