Yoshi's San Francisco
June 5, 2008
Review and Photos by Justin Page
For those of you who, like myself, were previously completely unfamiliar with the Afro-Cuban force known as Orchestra Baobab, or those of you who are familiar and have yet to catch them live, do yourselves a favor. Make it a point to get out and see these dudes as soon as you can.
When we were still downing tuna rolls and Kirin pints at Yoshi's last night, we weren't sure what was in store for this performance. Then the lights dimmed and the crew strolled onto the stage, making themselves comfy to welcoming San Francisco applause. Before the majority of these cats even seemed to have found their instruments, this silky, almost tropical wall of sound came over the room -- it was so strong it made my knees and head involuntarily wobble like I'd instantaneously developed some sort of rhythmic Parkinson's.
All too soon it was obvious: this crowd loved this band. And from what I could tell they knew the music. As my boy and I sat in the wings, taking it all in, we noticed that the ladies at the table next door were clearly a step ahead of everyone in the room. Halfway into the first song, our quaint little nook at the back of the venue became the breeding ground for a dance vibe that would soon to sweep Yoshi's.
As Baobab worked from song to song, sax solo to guitar solo, chants to melodies, the audience swayed from their perches between the tables and along the walls. Some seemed content clapping and wiggling from their seats. That is, of course, until the band's front man invited everyone to get up and join them dancing, basically schooling folks with this little gem right here: "In Africa... music is only... for dance."
Then he raised his hands, lifting us to our feet much like David Copperfield might lift a Mini Cooper. Guess what, y'all? We all stood up. By now we all had our little Spanish step working, cha cha-ing back and fourth to our little round tables so we could pop another spicy tuna roll.
Baobab continued to belt out jam after jam with seemingly effortless togetherness until the predictable yet "ahhhh" time when the Yoshi's crew had to prepare for the 10 p.m. show. Lights on. Get out.
Heres the takeaway if there is one: If Orchestra Baobab return from Senegal to San Francisco some day, go see the show. (Or you can catch them in Santa Cruz on June 10th then in Napa on the 11th. After that, you'll have to chase them out of state.)
But first, do your best to learn their songs. Learn the words. If you don't speak the language, try to get the basic phonetics down. Because here's a hint. At some point the band members might ask you to sing along - and you'll want to. You'll want to sing at the top of your lungs. But if you don't know the words, there you are, trapped by the exit sign on the far side of the room, moving to a song that you're promising yourself you'll know next time these guys come to town.