Orchestra Baobab Harbourfront Centre, Toronto ON July 3

Orchestra Baobab Harbourfront Centre, Toronto ON July 3
The Senegal-based veterans comprising Orchestra Baobab make a perfect choice for an evening concert at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. Founded as the house band at Dakar's Club Baobab in 1970 and idle between 1985 and 2002, Orchestra Baobab blend Afro-Cuban rumba, pachanga and salsa, Senegalese griots (praise singers), American soul jazz and West African mbalax and soukous music. (They sing in Wolof, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Malinke.) The group have released two albums since the 2002 reunion and brought to the waterfront venue selections from 2002's Specialist in All Styles and 2007's Made in Dakar, along with a few beloved classics. The salsa beats overlaid with soukous guitar ripples from Baobab's nine-piece complement began with "Papa Ndiaye,” the leadoff track from Made in Dakar, which cast the "so these guys are like the Senegalese Buena Vista Social Club" murmurs around the bandshell. True, both acts carry great cultural legacy; both disbanded and withered but became North American "discoveries” upon reunion. (Indeed, Buena Vista's Ibrahim Ferrer appears on Specialist...) The next two cuts came from that album; the upbeat highlife of "Bul Ma Miin” and the sublime "Dee Moo Woor” with insistent Wolof chants. Momentum picked up with "Ami Kita Bay,” a gorgeous example from Made in Dakar of the group’s hybrid "mbalsa" groove (mbalax and salsa). The gallop and swing of classic tune Werente Serigne led into 2007 single "Nidiaaye,” which earned a few more recognition cheers from the crowd that skewed a little to the World Music Dad side. After the sax- and guitar-solo-laden favourite "Utrus Horas” (whistles from the crowd, even!), the set's sizzle hit full heat via master guitar player and musical director Barthelemy Attisso on progressive dancin' tunes like "Ndeleng Ndeleng” and the finale "Gnawoe.” Conga, timbales, saxophone and that infectious sun-laced guitar blanketed the harbour: Made in Dakar, but bless that free-concert festival circuit Toronto shares with Chicago and New York — this rare treat of a band is exactly that Harbourfront should be bringing. Jonathan Rothman