26 June 2013

Specialists in all styles

This track by the Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab is an ideal entry point for those unfamiliar with its stirring style of Afro-Cuban crossover, which we in English-speaking lands tend to refer to as 'world music'. The term is about as accurate as the North American baseball competition being called the World Series, but who cares. This track, El Son te Llama, comes from the 2002 album Specialist In All Styles, released on the World Circuit label, and was the first of two album releases on World Circuit following a long band hiatus from 1987 to 2001. The band had a lengthy career in the 1970s and 80s, but reformed in 2001 after the huge burst of interest in world music following the success of the Buena Vista Social Club and the Senegalese superstar and Orchestra Baobab member (and current Minister of Tourism and Culture for Senegal) Youssou N'Dour. The clip below was made by a Mexican fan of the band.

In this 2008 interview band member Barthélemy Attisso discusses his self-taught method of becoming a professional musician:
What happened was, when I decided to devote myself to learning the guitar, I quit my day job and used my last paycheck to buy a guitar and an instruction book. I went back home and devoted myself to learning the guitar using this book. I'd quit teaching by that point.

From the book I learned the chords and a few of the notes. Then, what I started to do was record music on the radio-- this was all local musicians and orchestras. And I would play it over and over again, because at that point what I was really interested in was accompaniment. So I would listen to the music from the radio and accompany the singer on the recording.

Once I had sort of gotten a handle on playing with the recordings, I would go to some of the local nightclubs and actually listen at the door, and what I was really listening for was how [the guitarists] were accompanying the singers. So I would hang out outside and listen, and then I would go home and practice and see if I could re-create what I had heard. 
There were a lot of nightclubs at that time. There was the Star, which was one of the biggest, the Palladium, the Calypso. I went to all of these, and I would listen to the guitar, and how it accompanied the singer. And I really learned how play behind a singer the way it was supposed to be done.
Attisso still mixes his Orchestra duties and touring with his law practice work in Lomé, the Togolese capital.
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