Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Paul Fisher interviews Tinariwen's manager Andy Morgan.
Tinariwen are arguably the hottest act in world music right now. A group of nomadic Tuaregs from the southern Sahara desert in Mali who play a pulsating brand of "desert blues" on electric guitars, their epic journey has already become the stuff of legend. Founded at the end of the 1970s, they wrote songs of the suffering caused by catastrophic droughts, the pain of exile and struggles for political freedom.

In the early '80s they were lured into Col. Gadaffi-sponsored military training camps in Libya. Their songs became the mouthpiece of the rebellion of the Tuaregs — Muslim tribesmen descended from the Berbers of North Africa who share their own language, Tamasheq.

By 1990, the main members of the group were armed with Kalashnikovs and fighting in Tuareg rebellions in northern Mali and Niger.

In 2001 they helped organize the Festival in the Desert, where they were seen by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, one of a growing list of rock stars championing their music — and their cause — that includes Carlos Santana, Thom Yorke of Radiohead and U2's Bono.

According to their manager, Englishman Andy Morgan, who also first saw them at the inaugural Festival in the Desert, the story shouldn't get in the way of the music.

"Tinariwen are musicians first and foremost. The older members of the band did receive military training in the Libyan camps, and most of them also took part in the rebellion of '90-'91. But they consider this an episode . . . brief, painful, harrowing . . . but an episode nonetheless. They were musicians before it happened, and they've been musicians ever since.

"In the late 1980s, when Mali was still dominated by the military dictatorship of Moussa Traore [the leader who took power in a coup in 1968 and led Mali for 23 years], there seemed to be no other way for the Tuaregs to make themselves heard or respected other than taking up arms and fighting."

Talking music, their now trademark sound emerged when one of the founders of the group, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, transposed Tuareg melodies to the electric guitar, adding in blues, rock, and Berber and Arabic influences. This was a radical approach to a fairly rigid tradition, but one that didn't cause much adverse reaction.

"There was no Dylanesque backlash," says Morgan, referring to the reaction of some Bob Dylan fans when the folk singer went electric in 1965. "Tuareg society and culture was simply too dispersed, and too isolated, for such a 'unified' cultural phenomenon as a backlash to occur.

"On the other hand, I think that there was definitely a generation gap between the youth, or the ishumar, as they're known, and their parents, who had grown up in the '40s and '50s and who only knew a very ancient nomadic existence, with clear social standards and hierarchies."

Tinariwen in some ways symbolize a new way of life for the Tuareg. "They are the first generation of Tuareg to have significant dealings with the modern world," says Morgan. "They were the first to live in exile, the first to deal with a wage economy, the first to travel far from their ancestral homes, the first to listen to Western rock and pop, the first to use the guitar as their main instrument of choice."

Indeed, it's difficult to understand Tinariwen without understanding their context in the history of their people. "To take a very specific example, in the old days, before independence, it was considered the height of bad manners for an adult Tuareg male to show his full face in public, unveiled," says Morgan. "The older members of Tuareg society still live like that. Eyadou, Tinariwen's bassist, has told me that he has an uncle, living in southern Algeria, whose full face he has never seen. In contrast, Ibrahim, the founder of Tinariwen, refuses to wear the veil. For him it symbolizes the old hierarchies, and old isolation of the Tuareg. It's what he has fought against."

Apart from attracting the praise of rock glitterati, Tinariwen have actively been promoted to a mainstream rock audience by their record company Independiente, whose roster includes Travis and Embrace. The Japan Times spoke with the group just as they were about to take to the stage to support The Rolling Stones in front of 65,000 people at Dublin's Slane Castle.

"I'm really really happy to be here," says Ibrahim Ag Alhabib. "For me it's like arriving in a special place after so many years of solitude and separation and suffering in the desert. I've always dreamed of this and now it's happening. It's a big experience. None of us really knew the music of The Rolling Stones before. But in the last few days I've been listening to some of their songs, and I love them. And I now realize that we did listen to the Stones back in the desert in the '70s and '80s but we just didn't know it was them. The problem is that we heard most of our music on bootlegged tapes, with no picture, no track titles, no sleeve notes, nothing. That's why we're always a bit uncertain about our Western music, finding it hard to name names. But the Stones are amazing. Their music has a power like the devil. It's very, very strong."

The group might not be expecting 65,000 to turn up at their concert in Japan, but their first visit two years ago did leave a lasting impression.

"I was very surprised that the Japanese are such big music fans," says Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, another of the group's main songwriters. "They seem to love our music, and are great dancers too. That really impressed me. For some reason I had this image of Japanese people as being mainly interested in technology, but not the music itself. It was great for us. Also, the food is bizarre, but the whole protocol of eating is very beautiful. We enjoyed the whole ritual. We found that the Japanese are very kind, very welcoming."

Ibrahim adds, "I found the Japanese people great, but strange in that they're in the world, but they're separate from the rest of the world. It's really as if you arrive in a parallel world — human, friendly, but completely separate. Tokyo was absolutely the opposite of our home. I saw people walking in Tokyo in a way that I've never seen before. These waves of pedestrians . . . it was frightening!"

That tour was not their first contact with Japan. One of their members, Mohammed Ag Itlale, is even nicknamed "Japonais" as he is thought to look Japanese.

"Back in the desert there's a whole lot of people who look Japanese," explains Ibrahim. "Japonais is only one of them. Nobody knows why. Maybe the shogun came there a long time ago to do his business!"

Eighty thousand copies sold of their first two albums notwithstanding, it's still too early to tell if Tinariwen has managed to crossover to a rock audience or not, according to the band's manager.

"It's very difficult to judge, mainly because the music industry itself is changing so rapidly. Nowadays, the significance of record sales has changed. They're no longer the main barometer of success. Sales of 'Aman Iman' [their third and latest album, released earlier this year] have so far been superb for an African act, and frankly pretty modest for a rock/pop act," says Morgan. "But having said that, I'm always so surprised by the extent to which Tinariwen have pervaded many people's consciousness, especially people who don't class themselves as 'world music' or 'African music' fans. I keep getting proof of that. So maybe there's something happening out there. Time will tell."

For the group, judging success and their own mission is complex.

"On a personal level, the mission has much to do with earning a living, traveling the world, having opportunities which are so rare back home in the desert," says Morgan. "But on a much wider community level, Tinariwen see themselves as ambassadors of the desert, the Tuareg. They're really very proud of their home, and their culture. They want the world to know about it, to understand what they've been through and what they were prepared to give up in their lives, for what they believe in. They want us to know how beautiful their homeland is, and how misunderstood."

Please Visit Echoes of the Land aStore

Toumani Diabaté - Interview

Joe Tangari interviews Toumani Diabaté.

Toumani Diabaté likes to talk. I didn't try it, but it may very well be possible to interview him simply by saying, "Go."

What comes out is a detailed and rich telling of his family history, a dose of African history, and a lot of background on the kora, the West African harp he plays with astounding and perhaps even unprecedented virtuosity.

Pitchfork: Could you start by giving us a little background on the kora?

Toumani Diabaté: Well, the Mandinka Empire was about 700 years ago in West Africa. It was like nine or 10 countries together in the Empire. The kora came from there about 700 years ago. It's made with a special gourd called the calabash and cow skin and it has twenty-one strings.

The players were from the griot families. They carried on the memory of the Mandinka Empire, because 700 years ago there was now writing in books. They were there to talk about Mandinka history.

Pitchfork: So it was oral history.

TD: Yes. It was translated [handed down] father to son, father to son, father to son...That's why I became the 71st generation kora player in my family. The kora technically is three octaves, and you play it at the bridge with four fingers. It has basically three possibilities: you can play the bass line, you can play the melody, and also you can improvise with both at the same time. Only the kora can do that.

The kora is very important for the Mandinka people. You can play it with any kind of instruments in any kind of style. It's gorgeous, it's a perfect, complete instrument, normally played acoustic.

Pitchfork: Your parents were both musicians in the Ensemble National Instrumental.

TD: Yes, my mother and father were great musicians. I was born in the 1960s, when my country, Mali, got independence-- I don't call it independence, because my country doesn't need someone to say it's independent.

[But] this was when they formed the national ensembles-- traditional band[s] with all the traditional instruments: the balafon, the ngoni, the kora, and the women with the bright voices. The men were singing also. So my parents were in the ensemble and they couldn't get time to teach me. So I was listening to my father's tapes and recordings of my grandfather and also Western music. From that, I taught myself to play while going to school to learn how to read and write.

Pitchfork: So you were hearing all this traditional and non-traditional music. How did that affect what you taught yourself?

TD: I was teaching myself the traditional music and also...I had a dream when I was young. At that time I was hearing Otis Redding, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix. So, my dream was to try to play this music with the kora. I'm happy to say today that this worked very good. I've done different projects with Taj Mahal, the prophet of blues, Ali Farka Toure-- I won a Grammy Award with him-- the Spanish musicians in Ketama, and Björk. So my dream is really here.

I didn't want the Western people to say "Oh!" when they're listening to the kora music [adopts patronizing tone] "This is so very nice." I wanted them to join with this music, and to play with this music, because music has been created as its own language, you know? The "G" on the kora is the same "G" that's on a piano. It's the same "G" that Carlos Santana was playing. The "B" on the kora is the same as the one that the hip hop people have.

Pitchfork: So after collaborating with so many people from so many places, do you look for something specific in a potential collaborator?

TD: I'm happy to be this kind of open musician. I'm not just playing for the beer or the whiskey, you know? My music has a history and a legend. My music has a geography. It's for peace and love and culture, and I think it's for communication. I think the best way to communicate today is the music. So I really want to know, today, how come the kora is not in Hollywood? How come it's not in hip hop? That's my dream today.

So if you're open and you have any connection to that, just put it on. I'm ready to do it. Because I think that people need to know that African-American people, they have another thought about Africa. Today is not time to say anymore about the slavery and people being deported from Africa to the U.S., to London, to Jamaica. That's the past right? So we have now to move on and be together and collaborate. It's not right for people to give time to killing themselves with drugs because they lost everything in the past.

My father told me, he said "Look, son, the only one in the world today who doesn't have any enemy is the money, because everyone wants money. It's important that people come together, because if you make a lot of money, finally you will lose something in you. You will lose your culture. It's no good, because money can't do everything." Everybody wants money, but, when my father talked, the money talked also. [laughs] He said, "But the money just says, 'Nobody looked after me. I'm here, I'm the money, but nobody looked after me.' We did everything for money, but money couldn't get everything."

It's time to communicate between people and between the nations. That's the best thing.

Pitchfork: You've been playing with the Symmetric Orchestra for years now, but you've only recorded with them last year. Is communication why you finally chose to record with them? Was it time to communicate?

TD: It's a 20-year-old project, and I'm happy that it works, because it's the only band in Africa today that has musicians coming form different towns and countries and talking in one language-- that's the music. Like I said, it has a history.

Pitchfork: But as far touring with the band and taking it on the road for the first time, what communication have you been getting in response from the audiences?

TD: Touring... I've been doing it for about 20 years with different people. Touring is good, but the main time is after the show, when people come to me and say, "Your music touched me." That's really important. In Ottawa, after my concert at a folk festival I had a man and his family approach me and they said that when their daughter was born, they were looking for a name to give to her. Finally, they took the name of my song and they gave it to their daughter. They brought a picture to me. I've been seeing people crying at the concerts because of the music and when I talk about the history and how we play together. People will come to me and say, "Thank you so much."

Pitchfork: So as you communicate outward, what are you hearing from other musicians you're hearing as you travel the world? Have you heard anything in particular that stands out?

TD: Well, at a festival-- most of the concerts were at festivals-- you give and you learn. It's like if you're thirsty and you want to drink, you go to the store to buy water. You can't drink the whole bottle in the store, and the music is like that. You can't say "I'm finished with the music." I started playing when I was five years old. You can't know everything about music. You're always in the middle. I think it's not only music that's like that, but life for a human being is like that all the time. So when I go to a festival, I give from my heart, but also I learn from other musicians.

Pitchfork: So is that also part of the appeal of collaborating with other musicians? Like, when you play with Bjork, she learns from you and you learn form her?

TD: Yeah. Collaborating with different musicians from different culture is the same thing. I'm happy to do that, because they have something to say and I have something to say, and when we put that together, it's just happenin' and hopefully the people will love it.

Pitchfork: In your notes on your last album, Boulevard de l'Independence, you mention that you've been recording the Symmetric Orchestra during its residency at the Hogon in Bamako? What do you use those recordings for?

TD: Well, the Hogon Club for me is a laboratory. We play there every Friday night and people come from around Mali, but also foreign people, and if I compose a song, we play it to check how the people feel this music. And if it goes well with the people, we keep the song and it gets more exciting. When the foreign people come, also, there are no constraints. I tell them, "Play what you like." That's the way we work there.

Pitchfork: So was it different when you went into a studio to record the Symmetric Orchestra?

TD: The recording was live, so not different, really. I don't like to talk much about the project.

Pitchfork: Have you been working on other things since then, besides touring?

TD: Of course the Symmetric Orchestra is still a big project for me now. But twenty years ago I released my first solo album, Kaira, and I just finished to make another solo album, which is being released next year.

Please Visit Echoes of the Land aStore

Orquestra Imperial - Interview

Will Hodgkinson interviews Orquestra Imperial.
There are some things that only Brazilians can do. One is to lie on a tiny mat on the beach all day without getting a grain of sand on it. Another is to play samba. Born in the working-class provinces of Rio at the turn of the 20th century, this blend of African rhythms and American jazz developed in dancehalls and carnivals of the 1930s and 1940s to become the epitome of the Brazilian way of life: as languid as a summer breeze but with a touch of melancholy, too. Samba fell into the realms of kitsch by the 1980s, but a loose-knit group made up of young Rio-based musicians and a few ageing legends called Orquestra Imperial have revived the form to spectacular success.

“The whole thing started in a panic,” says the avant-garde musician and producer Kassin, who had the idea for Orquestra Imperial in 2002. “I had been running an experimental club when I was approached by the manager of an old Rio concert hall called Ballroom to do a series of shows. Ballroom held 2,000 people and I didn’t think our experimental music would fill the place, so I had the idea of forming a samba orchestra.”

With only a few days to organise the first concert, Kassin called up all the musicians he knew and told them of his plans. This included the singer and actress Thalma De Freitas, his regular collaborator Moreno Veloso and the 75-year-old drummer Wilson Das Neves. The idea was to perform anything – from the classic songs that Brazilians grew up with to modern advertising jingles – in a big-band samba style.

“I had the idea on Thursday and the first concert was on Monday,” recalls Kassin. “We had 15 people on stage and nine people in the audience.” Among the 40 people that attended the third concert was a reviewer from the Rio newspaper O Globo, who went on to announce that Orquestra Imperial was the best new band he had seen in a decade. By the fourth night it was a sell-out. Since then the band have backed the Brazilian superstars Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso, sold out the Barbican in London and completed their first album. “Since Orquestra Imperial there has been a huge revival in samba,” says Amarante.

It might seem strange that a new generation has embraced the music of their grandparents, but De Freitas explains: “In Brazil we have an amazing legacy of popular songs that everyone grows up with. I think that’s why Orquestra Imperial has worked. We have a lot of fun on stage, but we are paying homage to what has gone before us. We keep the songs alive.”

Please Visit Echoes of the Land aStore

Mayra Andrade sings Lua

Please Visit Echoes of the Land aStore

Mayra Andrade - Interview

Helen Brown interviews Mayra Andrade.
Closing her eyes and arching her neck backwards, the young Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade brings her palms to her collar bone and begins to beat out a rhythm from her home islands off the West Coast of Africa.

The "batuque" beat she is tapping into comes from a Cape Verdean dance - possibly used to promote bridal fertility - that was condemned as un-Christian by the Portuguese colonists.

Today the hypnotic polyrhythm has been reborn and reinterpreted in the now independent nation where 70% of the population are of mixed race and generations of emigration mean that women far outnumber men.

Tonight's polite and exclusively white audience at the Besancon musical festival in Eastern France close their eyes with Mayra Andrade, nod their heads and tune in as her lovely voice washes over them.

She sings songs of brave women calling fishermen in from the rough waves of the Atlantic, of love and loss and time passing in weathered isolation. There's a guttural oomph that reminds me of 1970s jazz singer Marlena Shaw.

As Andrade's arms widen, flail and sway to encompass the sense of ocean and emotion, her strapless dress nearly slips from her breasts, and a Frenchwoman in the front row throws up a pashmina to cover her.

When I sat on the balcony of her little hotel room earlier in the afternoon, 26 year old Andrade was every inch the chic chanteuse. Black suited and high chinned she told me of her childhood.

"Nobody in my family was musical. My father was in the military – which is how I came to be born in Cuba. My mother had a difficult pregnancy and the medical care was better there, and because of the good relations between our countries he arranged for her to give birth there. But back in Cape Verde she made my cousin my godfather and he played guitar: jazz standards and Brazilian music. The first song I remember singing was Caetano Veloso's ""O Leãozinho" about the little lion. I'm an unconditional fan of Veloso. I love every thing he does."

By the time she reached her late teens, Andrade realized she "was always singing, performing" and wanted to do something within the Cape Verdean tradition. At that time she met Orlando Pantera, a composer who was exploring the local fusion of Portuguese and African beats that had fallen out of fashion.

"He was adding more harmonies, richer melodies and poetry" to the passionate batuque beat traditionally rapped out by Santiagoan washerwomen on the cloth bundles (tchabeta) held in their laps.

"He had the courage to break into new territory and made Cape Verdean music more attractive to younger people," she says, batting those beats out onto her crisply pressed black trousers for me.

Pantera died, aged just 33, back in 2001.

"At the time of his death," she says, "he had only just begun to be well known, so I started to sing his songs, along with a few other young Cape Verdeans, to carry on the legacy. It was too great to die with him."

Some of his lyrics are rather amusing, I say, referencing one of several Pantera compositions on Andrade's seductive debut album, "Navega" (2006), called "Accroche a Toi" (Stuck on You).

"You went out of your way to get away from me," run the lyrics, "You walked in cowpats and the farmer's dog bit your behind/ You found another boyfriend to put me off/ You sorely criticised me/ You rubbed my nose in cat's mess/ And you served me a soup of locust wings/ But in spite of everything I'm still stuck on you, ha ha ha."

Andrade nods and smiles in recollection of her "small, intense friendship" with Pantera, but her brow creases: "He used his suffering to make a funny song."

The band with which Andrade performs in France (where she has lived since 2003) and who will appear with her on stage at London's Barbican on Friday night are all Brazilian. She acknowledges the difficulties of teaching them Cape Verdean musical metre.

"We are brothers in one way but… in Brazil a beat might be X, to us its Y. If you were to make a diagram the bass would be here not there, the vocal would be…" she sings a difference near imperceptible to me. "It was difficult for me at first, like having a story to tell in a different language. But gradually they are getting closer to the authentic Cape Verdean vernacular. I have been playing them Cape Verdean music."

The last thing I want to discuss with Andrade is the ferro she plays on stage. A long metal stick, pressed into the shoulder and scraped percussively with a shining knife. "I see it as a kind of power the traditional Cape Verdean women had, with this instrument, with the batuque. If you ask them they will say 'I have these problems: the men, the money, the children…. But with this, the music, I put down the problems'. With me… sometimes when I sing I feel I leave my body."

Please Visit Echoes of the Land aStore

Orchestra Baobab: Made in Dakar

Pete Paphides reviews Orchestra Baobab's Made in Dakar.
Asked about what might be expected on the new album by Orchestra Baobab, the Senegalese group’s 62-year-old guitarist Barthelemy Attisso pointed out that his band had been playing in the same style since 1970. The likelihood of them changing at this point was not great. As he put it: “We don’t want to change our style or we would lose our identity.”

If Attisso was ever going to cater to changing tastes, he would have done it 25 years ago, when his group’s hybrid of Nigerian high life, Cuban rhythms and B. B. King steals were usurped by the percussive street music known as mbalax. If mbalax was Senegal’s punk, Youssou N’Dour was its Joe Strummer. N’Dour became a star; Attisso put down his guitar and became a lawyer for 14 years.

Orchestra Baobab’s music was always that of the status quo. But in the 1970s, Senegal had a cool status quo. Leopold Senghor, the President, was a poet who championed a progressive strain of Afrocentricity called “Negritude” and Orchestra Baobab were his favourite emissaries of it – so much so that the group had a club built for them.

Made in Dakar might indeed have been made in Dakar, but for musical provenance, you’d need a box of pins to represent these songs on a map. Such is the brassy Cuban uplift of Ami Kita Bay that the song doesn’t need to do much other than repeat its main refrain. In Sibam Medoune Diallo’s vibrato pinballs from one minor chord to another and still sounds like great party music. By contrast, abetted by a sad saxophone, the melancholia of Aline seems connected to the Cabo Verdean blues of Cesarea Evora.

With five vocalists, it’s not always possible to discern who you’re listening to. But, on a re-recording of the group’s 1974 hit Nijaay – a song originally written and sung by the group’s late singer Laye Mboup – there’s no mistaking the voice of a guesting N’Dour. His presence seems significant. During Orchestra Baobab’s dormant years, N’Dour westernised his sound. But as the success of artists such as Tinariwen confirms, we Westerners never wanted our African music to sound like Elton John in Lion King mode. We wanted a joyful racket made in some remote club that we might never get to – the Club Baobab perhaps. Judging by the intensity of his performance, maybe he did too.

Please Visit Echoes of the Land aStore

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Youssou N’Dour - Interview

“The music and inspiration on this album are from the north, from the desert, from parts of the country that border on Mali and Mauritania. People from those countries will know and understand this music as well as people who come from the centre of Senegal” N’Dour says.

“Some people might think Senegalese music means mbalax, which is Wolof, the most important language in the country, everybody speaks it. But all my life I have been saying that this is not the only music we have in Senegal, we have a wide range of sounds and rhythms. When it came to writing the songs for this album, I wanted to use different sounds.

“Sometimes you will hear a little blues on the album, a little reggae, a bit of Cuba. In Africa, we get excited when we hear these rhythms, because we feel them, they are ours, but they left Africa with the slaves a long time ago. Rokku Mi Rokka means ‘You give me something, I give you something’ and that’s the message of the album: we have received a lot from the developed world, but remember that we brought a lot, too.”

For the recording, N’Dour returned to the band he helped form a quarter of a century ago, the Super Etoile, and old friends Habib Faye (bass), Babacar “Mbaye Dieye” Faye (percussion) and Papa Oumar Ngom (guitar), who have been part of Youssou’s circle for more than 20 years. “They are not from the north, but they are Senegalese, they understand exactly what is happening in the north, the south, and the centre.”

There are a few additions to the team, too. Neneh Cherry, duets with Youssou on “Wake Up (It’s Africa Calling)”. (Cherry and N’Dour previously recorded the hit song ‘7 Seconds’ in 1994). “We’re not trying to have another ‘7 Seconds’ as this is a much more African-sounding song, featuring our instruments, such as kora,” N’Dour says.
Read More
Please Visit Echoes of the Land aStore

Orchestra Baobab - Made in Dakar

Robin Denselow reviews Orchestra Baobab's Made in Dakar

In the smart Point E district of the Senegalese capital, Dakar, a cosy outdoor restaurant with the ghastly name Just 4U has become a key fixture of the west-African music circuit. Cheikh Lo has a weekly residency, local hip-hop trio Daara J make regular appearances, and the country's two superstars, Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal, made a historic appearance together on the venue's little stage this summer. And it is here, at midnight every Saturday, that the venue is home to another west-African music legend - nearly four decades since they first got together and six years on from their dramatic reunion, following a 16-year split.

On a good night, Orchestra Baobab are still one of the most joyous, rousing bands on the continent, and a special show at Just 4U to mark the launch of their first studio album in five years provides further evidence that the gentlemen of Dakar are not finished yet. There are 11 band members on stage, mostly dressed in brightly coloured shirts, and augmented by friends playing extra percussion and brass. They play for three hours but sound as if they could have continued until dawn, constantly changing styles in a cheerfully sophisticated, rhythmic and melodic show that features their full array of lead singers (they have five to call on) and backing work that matches congas, timbales and drums with brass and the remarkable guitar work of Baobab's founder member and chef d'orchestre, the quiet and bespectacled Barthelemy Attisso.

"We have had the same style since 1970," Attisso, 62, says before the show. "We were the first band to mix traditional music with modern dance styles. We don't want to change our style or we would lose our identity." Rudy Gomis, the easy-going 60-year-old singer, who also joined Baobab at the start of their career, says the fundamental sound has never changed. "It's a salad," he explains, "a mixture of Cuban songs and influences from Senegalese griots [traditional hereditary singers], and from the Congo, Nigeria, France and America, played by a Pan-African band with members from Senegal, Togo, Morocco and Guinea."

That old Baobab formula is still intact, and the band has survived - with substantially the same lineup they started with - because they have lost neither their enthusiasm nor the element of surprise in their songs. Watch them on stage or listen to the new material or reworked old favourites on the new album, and you can hear not just African and Cuban influences but echoes of everything from ska to jazz and country. This is thanks largely to the arrangements and inventive instrumental work of Attisso, perhaps the most unlikely guitar hero in Africa, simply because this is not his full-time job.

In a miracle of time management, Attisso combines his key role in Orchestra Baobab with his practice as a commercial lawyer, based not in Senegal but in Togo, which is not even a neighbouring country in west Africa. Even now, he only joins the band "for tours or for major events like this, so I spend about half my time with Baobab".

Attisso first arrived in Dakar in 1966 to study law, "but I found I needed money to pay the law school, so I had to find a night job. I thought of becoming a concierge, a bouncer at a bar or a cashier at a club, but I thought that would be boring, so I decided to become a musician." He spent two years learning the guitar and listening to the Congolese guitarist Doctor Nico, Cuban piano styles, Django Reinhardt, BB King, Wes Montgomery and Carlos Santana. These, he says, are still the only records he plays, "because I'm still learning from them".

By 1968, he was working in the celebrated Star Band of Dakar's Club Miami, alongside singers Rudy Gomis and Balla Sidibe, who would both later be invited to join him in a new venture, Orchestra Baobab. The group was the house band of Club Baobab, a basement nightclub owned by the minister of finance, who just happened to be the younger brother of Leopold Senghor, the Senegalese president. Senghor's "negritude" policy included the promotion of African music in his newly independent state and Orchestra Baobab were among its beneficiaries. The band remained at Club Baobab for seven years, playing four nights a week to a sophisticated clientele that often included the president and his guests, developing their style of mixing current hits and popular foreign favourites with the music of the Senegalese griots. In the process, Orchestra Baobab became the best-loved band in Senegal, outgrowing even the fashionable Club Baobab. "We wanted more money and bigger places to play," said Gomis. "And we were frustrated when our friends couldn't get in to Baobab see us, while political figures could."

At their height, they were playing stadiums across the country, but when mbalax, the percussive street style popularised by Youssou N'Dour, swept Senegal Orchestra Baobab's gentle, melodic style suddenly fell out of fashion. By 1985, they were forced out of business. "It was good for us," claims Gomis now, "because the incredible success had gone to the heads of some of our musicians. But I never thought we would get together again." Gomis went on to develop a solo career, while also working as a language teacher; Attisso returned to the law. "I thought it was all over, so I simply parked my guitar," he says. "I occasionally listened to the old music with nostalgia, but I never had time to keep practising."

That could well have been that, if western audiences had not started to take an interest in African music during the 1980s and 1990s. In 2001, a classic Baobab album, Pirates Choice, was rereleased in Britain, and in the same year the band was invited to reform for a special concert at the Barbican. It was, Attisso says, a frightening request. The lawyer had not picked up a guitar for 16 years and had forgotten how to play. "I told my wife that I had lost my touch but that my band members needed me," he recalls. "She replied that I could accomplish anything if I put my mind to it, and so every night after work I would practise until 2am, or right through the night, until I could play again." Orchestra Baobab were reborn, and N'Dour, the man who helped put them out of business, has proved to be a massive help in their revival. Along with World Circuit's Nick Gold, he co-produced their 2002 comeback album Specialist in All Styles, and he makes a rousing appearance on the new album, Made in Dakar, which was recorded in his Xippi studio.

Mbalax is still hugely popular in Senegal, but Orchestra Baobab have found a new audience, both back home and in the west. "Music is like fashion," says Gomis. "It comes and goes. The world stopped for us when the band stopped, but now the world is moving again."

Please Visit Echoes of the Land aStore