Review: Orchestra Baobab At The Roundhouse

Art & Culture

There is something stereotypically British about wandering through the bleak and rainy streets of Camden around this time of year. The light from tacky gift shops illuminates the puddles as we walk briskly beneath the rumble of a railway bridge, the shouts of lost souls echoing down the high street ahead. 

In the distance The Roundhouse rears its head above the sprawling mess which is the Camden jungle. This old space has seen more than its fair share of Tuesday nights and as we approach we begin to discuss the history of the venue. Originally built in 1847 it was used to store railway turntable. It fell victim to disrepair during World War II, as much of London did, but since reopened as a performing arts space in 1964. The venue has played host to many a famous name: David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix and more have all graced the stage. However, this evening the venue would belong to the sound of Orchestra Baobab, a Sengalese band of Afro Cuban instrumentalists whom have been performing together since the 1970's. 

Having begun their musical career as a resident band in Senegal's capital of Dakar some forty odd years ago they have since become legends amidst those who celebrate "world" music. News of the group's first new album in ten years emerged several weeks back and the album is expected to emerge in spring later this year. The release follows on from a significant period of time spent on tour which has seen them travel the world bringing with them the sounds of wider Africa. 

The first surprise upon entry to the venue was in the arrangement of the hall itself. Seats? Really? 

Dim lights hung hazily in the open space casting a dusty glow across a room which seemed just as bemused as us to have been granted a chair for the evening. 

They say that the best musicians are those which humble you. As the group of men took to the stage there was little sign of eccentricty or exuberance, however, given the collective age of this band of brothers such behaviour might of been somewhat unsurprising. However, as they politely introduced themselves in French there was an eager sense of anticipation amongst a crowd which had slowly filled. 

Beckoning vocals echoed spectacularly through the space as the band began to play. The subtle plucks of a bass guitar bounced pleasantly beneath the luxurious sound of horns and the strum of a guitar. Meanwhile the pitter patter of the congas cast a throwback to the falling rain we had strolled beneath upon entry. 

Caught off guard, there was an awkward fifteen minute period in which dancing was encouraged yet forcibly uncomfortable given the layout of the space. However, music can overcome such obstacles and by halfway through the performance the room could be seen swaying to and fro along with the lead saxophonist. Sporting a badass outfit, which can only be described as the costume of a bizarrely cool reimagined Scrooge, he marched back and forth with the occasional jig. In mannerism however, there was little similarity. He joyously serenaded the crowd, blasting great solos with an animated gaze. 

The night progressed spectacularly and the band began to loosen off mid set whilst showcasing an array of moves which men of such age had no business in performing. At least so the doctor might say.

There was a sense of warmth amongst the room as Orchestra Baobab concluded the evening with sumptuos musicality. Each member was introduced and given their chance to perform beneath the spotlight of the iconic venue. The luxurious instrumentation of a land far away felt just that little bit closer than before as the whoops and cheers echoed around the dome. 

The dampest of Tuesday night spirits were overcome by a group of men more accustomed to life beneath the sun. We all felt better for it. 

Follow Orchestra Baobab on Facebook HERE

Photography courtesy of John Williams. 

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