Orchestra Baobab, one of the most long-lasting bands in Africa continue spreading the idea of pan-africanism around the world

Orchestra Baobab (Copyright © Adamantios Kafetzis)

The first formation of the legendary band was created in 1970 at the Miami club in Dakar and after a while, with the addition of new members, they moved to the Baobab club where they took their name from. Most of the old members passed away but the band continues with new members and setting new targets for the future. Their concerts are an unforgettable experience for the audience. We had the chance to speak with them after their concert in Athens, September 1st, 2022.

Mountaga, you are the oldest member of the band. 52 years passed since the creation of the Orchestra Baobab, which is the secret for this success all these years and where do you see the group from now on?

Mountaga Koité: I pay tribute to our members who passed away, I am talking about Issa Cissoko, Barthelemy Attisso, Laye Mboup, Medoune Diallo, Thione Seck, Ndiouga Dieng, Peter Udo, Balla Sidibe, Rudy Gomis. I really pay homage to them, because out of nothing they created something colossal. Until now we are playing their tracks, which means that their work is something enormous.

Today that all of them passed away, we thought that we have to keep the flame alive and luckily our sons are in the band: like Alpha the son of Ndiouga Dieng and Papino my son, I hope they will continue this way. These days we are feeling very confident, Me, my brother Thierno Koité, our cousin Moussa Cissoko who was in Paris all these years and Yakhya Fall, we are responsible for the group and we have to educate the kids to continue. We have this ambition. We went on a big tour, we visited many countries where the audience applauded us, this gave us hope that the audience will continue supporting the band, even after our departure.

Thierno Koité, Yakhya Fall, you were members of the Number One de Dakar during the first period of the Baobab. You had a great success with the Number One, was there any rivalry between the two groups during that period?

Yahkya Fall: Thanks to God we are alive until today and we pray that God took those who passed away to paradise. There was no rivalry as we think today, it was mostly a rivalry between the fans. As musicians from both bands we were frequently visiting each other’s clubs. Every group had its own style that the audience supported and they believed there was a rivalry between the musicians but it was not true. The proof is that today most of the members of Number One passed away and I am here playing with the Baobab.

About the Baobab I want to say that in Senegal we are lucky to have two symbols for the country. The first is the lion for its power and courage, the second is the Baobab for its longevity! The Baobab symbolises this mythical orchestra, a mystery that kept it alive so many years and maybe even our grand children will continue playing with this band.

Thierno Koité: The Number One and the Baobab were doing almost the same thing, musically I mean. In both bands we were playing Afro-Cuban music, we were orchestras of varieté. We were also creating tracks of Senegalese and African music. Both bands were doing their best to integrate the senegalese traditional music with the western and cuban music.

In Senegal, you have a huge respect for the Orchestra Aragon. They are almost a 90 years old band, they have changed their members many times. Do you have a dream to do the same with the Baobab, the new generation to continue the legacy?

Mountaga Koité: Of course! Is not only that we have our sons in the group but also God gave us the chance to play together with Aragon in London. That night Aragon were going to play the first part and Baobab the second. The Senegalese ambassador asked Ndiouga: “as the Aragon are playing the first part, are they going to be any people left to listen to you in the second part?” Ndiouga replied: “I don’t know, On verra ça ce soir.” That night Aragon played very well as always, they are great musicians, we respect them a lot. But when we came on stage, we created a great ambience that people loved it. It was a big pleasure for us that night. Aragon is a mythical band but we are too. We are on the same path. I am listening to our tracks being covered by young groups in Europe, so as Yakhya says, the Baobab will continue for a long time.

Do you prefer the new generation, who will take care of the band after you, to continue with the same style? Do you have a problem if they change the style?

Mountaga Koité: They do not have to strictly continue with the same style, but they should keep the base. They should keep the base of Orchestra Baobab and to make a transition. The music always changes, the young members now are playing mostly pop than the classic style of the band. Attisso was playing calm, sweet, our new solo guitarist is playing pop as he is influenced by groups like Dire Straits for example. It is sure there will be a transition, it is up to them to decide how they are going to continue, but it should be in the frame of Baobab.

You made 13 LPs before the group disbanded in the ‘80s. In 2002 you made new recordings of old tracks for the very successful album Specialist in All Styles, with a new sound, new arrangements. The sound on this album is incredible. How important is the sound for the music?

Mountaga Koité: Where we are today, is not the same as in the past, referring to the sound. You knew Moussa Diallo, he was recording on his reel to reel machine all the musicians together. He was installing his microphones and we were recording live. Today we have the chance to record the voices separately, the solo guitar alone in a separate room and to do the same with the rest of the musicians. Also there is a big evolution in the technical part.

As we had the chance because we were touring, to record in Europe, our producer Nick Gold, introduced us to a great man called Jerry Boys. We really had a great chance to meet him, as he knew very well how to record all the instruments. Specialist in All Styles is the best recording of Orchestra Baobab. But what brought us to that point? It was the Pirates Choice which was recorded in Dakar by Moussa Diallo. There are people who prefer the sound of Pirates Choice than the new one we made.

Do you think of a new album?

Mountaga Koité: Of course! The new album is almost ready.

Thierno Koité: We already made a demo of 12 new tracks that we sent to our label BMG. We are waiting for them to tell us when we could go to the studio to record them. We have them ready since March. Because of the Covid restrictions we didn’t have any concerts, so the only thing we could do was to work in a studio, to compose and arrange new tracks. The label prefers to record the album in Dakar for economical reasons. We hope the album will be released in 2023. Even during the concerts we are playing some of the new tracks.

In conclusion

Yahkya Fall: The Orchestra Baobab is like its name, an institution, a spirit, a heritage, it is immortal.