Being one of Africa’s westernmost countries, Senegal welcomed visitors from the other side of the Atlantic throughout the 20th century. Some of these visitors brought with them elements of their Latin American music and culture, itself rooted in earlier African practices, leaving an indelible mark on the musicians at the heart of its musical hubs, as in the coastal capital of Dakar. A listen to Analog Africa’s Senegal 70 compilation illustrates this infusion, with recordings like Viva Maravillas by King N’Gom exhibiting the vocal cadences and decorative acoustic guitar we associate with Cuban son and salsa, alongside the percussive and call-and-response elements we often associate African music.
This track and others like it, set the scene for Orchestra Baobab’s beautiful recording of Guajira Ven, released digitally last week in support of their forthcoming tour and baring its own transatlantic tale. Originating in Dakar and being heavily involved in the scene that Senegal 70 encapsulates; the Orchestra too drew from the sounds of the Caribbean, and with this decade-old demo, were inspired specifically by Dominican Republic-based duo Los Ahijados.
Early versions of the song, like that by No 1 de No 1 pull from samba, psychedelic rock and much more, but Orchestra Baobab’s rendition is cleaner and calmer, highlighting the lyrical qualities of the track.
As the bio accompanying the song explains, ‘Cuban music was hugely popular in Senegal in the 60’s and early 70’s and many bands would feature Cuban songs in their repertoire, the lyrics often sung phonetically’. In light of this, Baobab’s rendition can be observed as a tribute to the Caribbean songs and artists who helped shape their sound, having landed in their home City and become intwined with their own enchanting musical creations.
Listen to Orchestra Baobab’s Guajira Ven here, and if you enjoy West African music of any description, ensure you catch the band live at Gorilla next week and gain the right to say that you have seen one of the continent’s great outfits!