World Circuit/Nonesuch 2002
When the eponymous club for Dakar government officials for which the band was named finally closed in 1979, the Senegalse Orchestra Baobab moved to first Paris, then Marseilles. As one of the seminal World Music bands in the 70s when Guinea's Bembeya Jazz ruled, the Wolof-based formation with its Maninke, Malinke and Cuban influences eventually returned to Senegal when fortunes in France fizzled out. But musical tastes in the homeland had in the meantime shifted away from their former dance band style towards Youssou N'Dour's mbalax. By the mid 80s, only lead vocalist Balla Sidibe remained of the original formation. In its surprising present -- revivified -- incarnation under Sidibe's baton, the orchestra again includes Rudy Gomis, Isso Cissokho, Ndiouga Dieng and Barthelemy Atisso from the olden days.

Like a classroom reunifcation is bound to fondly reminisce, Specialist in all Styles is a glorious throwback to the days when Cuban music first made inroads into Africa; when e-guitars were played without distortion; when a certain simplistic repetitiousness of phrases and rhythms didn't yet exceed the soundbyte attention span of today's Pentium 4 generation; when movies told stories, not special effects, when songs were carried by singers, not sound effects. A distinct charm of a bygone era pervades Specialist carried by six strong vocalists who, when not harmonizing, all take turns soloing.

Bobby McFerrin's famously popular admonition "Don't worry, be happy" comes to mind. This is totally unpretentious feel-good music where less-is-more guitar riffs trade places with various saxes, where certain rhythms suggest a Reggae-lite feel, and where, above all, glorious vocalizing rules the day - honey-smooth, lithe, high black voices doing what they do best: Show their attendant crowd a good danceable time using timbales, maracas and clave instead of djembe, calebasse, tama and marimba, Don't be surprised when Ibrahim "Tonton' Ferrer makes a smmokingly sultry guest appearance before Youssou N'Dour introduces the two traditional Wolof singers Ndiouga Dieng and Assante Mboup in the same tune.

Even the album's humourous, off-kilter booklet art points at the same "easy is right, right is easy, come and chill" vibe where the sensuous, hip-swaying art of old Cuba meets the earthy joi-de-vivre of Africa. Think of it as a time capsule straight into the heart of this mystery. A "Grande Merci" to Balla Sidibe for gathering together his old friends and reminding us why the original Orchestra Baobab was as popular as it was. Saludos!