Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Orchestra Baobob at Dartmouth College 6/24/08

Fresh off their run at the Bonnaroo farm, which I unfortunately missed, Orchestra Baobob were scheduled for a free outdoor show on the Dartmouth green Tuesday afternoon. Unfortunately, while the show stayed free, rain warnings moved it to the school’s stuffy seated auditorium. That couldn’t damped the energy of the nine Senegalese musicians onstage though, who if anything may have amped up the performance to compensate. Though different from Western music sensibilities, their polyrhythms and warbling lyrics seemed familiar enough that the audience found them easily accessible. Helped in part by a rock-band set of instruments (guitars, bass, percussion, sax), they turned into a sub-Saharan jam band, laying down basic grooves and soloing over them as one song smoothly transitioned into the next.

Despite the cramped space, the band turned it into the biggest dance party that auditorium has ever seen, inviting everyone to fill the aisles and rows, and even bringing kids they spotted onstage to dance along with the band. And, despite usher’s constant pleas for everyone to return to their seat, the audience obliged the band's requests, packing every free space available to groove along. The crowd's energy was nothing compared to the bands though, lead guitarist Barthélemy Koffi Atisso getting into head-to-head solo duels with sax man (and comedy relief) Issa Cissokho. They all switched instruments around, hung out side-stage dancing on songs where they weren’t needed and seemed so overjoyed to even be there it was hard not to get caught up in it. While the sounds may have been a little Starbucks-bland in its attempt to cross-over to Western audiences, the energy and dancing both onstage and off overcame for any lackluster material.

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