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CD reviews: African rhythms for the head and feet

Orchestra Baobab, back together after 20 years; Toumani Diabate's new solo kora offering; the 'best of' Tabu Ley Rochereau; and more.

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ORCHESTRA BAOBAB:

Named after a sturdy African tree with healing properties, this 11-piece Senegalese band proves as life-affirming as its namesake. Re-formed after a decades-long hiatus, they uncannily merge Caribbean rhythms, American soul mannerisms, and Congolese dance styles into a spectacular display of brash virtuosity. What distinguishes their style is fervent interplay emphasizing a thick-toned, inventive electric guitarist, a forceful soul-jazz saxophonist, and keening vocalists. Their lyrics focus on love, marriage, family, and avoiding muscle strain when dancing. Their instrumental sound evokes sultry romance.

TOUMANI DIABATE:

The kora is a West African harp from antiquity often used to accompany traditional recitations of family history. Now imagine a young kora player from Mali who radically rethinks the kora's potential as a world-class instrument, yet refuses to electrify the soft-sounding, nylon-stringed harp. He listens carefully to Jimi Hendrix, UB40's reggae-rock, blues, and flamenco. He invents a technique of playing bass lines and melodic embellishments that suggest hearing two or more musicians simultaneously. The result? An astonishing tour de force: a solo kora recital of exquisite delicacy, breathtaking improvisational skill, and elegiac stateliness.

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