While not quite in the Buena Vista Social Club class as a romantic story of veteran virtuosity rediscovered, the 2002 comeback of Senegal's Orchestra Baobab almost two decades after they split up was spectacular enough. Five years on comes the second reunion album and, listening to its warm melodies and lilting rhythms, it's hard to argue with the record company's press release which excitedly announces `Africa's perfect pop group are back!' Mixing new compositions with reworked songs from their 70s heyday, Baobab have probably never sounded better. First, Nick Gold's production leaves the sound quality of those early recordings in the shade. And secondly, their return to playing live means that their musical chops are in much better shape than on 2002's Specialist In All Styles. Each of the group's six lead vocalists brings a different soulful nuance, but in many ways the album belongs to guitarist Barthélemy Attisso. You'd never have guessed on their last album that he hadn't touched a guitar in years but on this one you can definitely hear that he's been playing regularly ever since and his fluidity now rivals the Rail Band's Djelimady Tounkara. The stand-out track is probably `Nijaay', a 70s epic reinvented by Attisso's wah-wah guitar and great guest vocals from Youssou N'Dour. But the overwhelming feeling of Made In Dakar is of a band having fun, from the infectious rumba of `Aline' via the speeded-up chachachá of `Jirim' to the last track, `Colette', on which they sound like a Senegalese Skatalites. Perfect African pop, indeed.
© Nigel Williamson/Songlines magazine