Borderline Latin: Orchestra Baobab, El Son te llama

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Borderline Latin is an exploration of the influence of Latin music in styles, places and rhythms beyond its traditional borders, and of different types of cross-pollination between Latin music and other musical creatures. Each week, we will feature the works of a ‘non-Latin’ artist via song or musical style whose rhythm, themes, melodic inflections or influences have earned it the name of Borderline Latin.

The importance of African music in terms of its influence on several Latin genres is pretty much a well-known fact. This is especially truth for the Caribbean. But an African band whose sound was shaped by their love of Latin rhythms and Cuban sounds –now that’s something. Orchestra Baobab is such a band. It formed during the 1970’s in Senegal, playing son, rumba, salsa, and fusing them with soul, a little bit of jazz and a whole lot of Senegalese attitude. Wow.

Most of its members started playing together in a club called Miami, in Dakar, which, as you probably already guessed, served stylish portions of Cuban music to its clients. Later, when a new club called Baobab was opened, they were invited to play there as the house orchestra –hence the name. Back then, people in Senegal were crazy about Cuban music, and were experimenting with other Western rhythms. Barthélemy Attisso, the original guitarist of the band, cites Django Reinhardt, Carlos Santana and B. B. King as some of his influences. But his true love is Cuban music. In a 2008 interview –Orchestra Baobab toured the Americas that year– he explains how the people who were brought from Africa to Cuba created great music there, which later came back to Africa only to be rejoined with its roots.

After several records and a series of ups and downs, the band disintegrated. However, like the Baobab tree, which loses its leafs only to be reborn again, they got back together and are still active, playing live, recording, and even hanging out with Dave Matthews –I know. They’re kind of like the Buena Vista Social Club from Senegal. Here’s their rendition of a classic son, but before, I want to thank Timo Bisig for pointing them out for me, and invite people to keep sending other examples of borderline Latin music –please! And now, enjoy:

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Click HERE to read more on “Borderline Latin.” For comments and tips, please contact me at:, and for more info on my “Borderline” works, visit Borderline Projects.