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Supergroup: Boban & the Baobabs, Roundhouse 19th July

PostPosted: Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:13 pm
by Gordon Neill
Down in London for a few days, I was lucky enough to be tipped off about this unlikely pairing of the Boban Markovic Orkestra and Orchestra Baobab. No simple double-billing, this was no less than the debut of world music’s first supergroup. Presumably, the thinking was that it would give Boban Markovic a much larger audience, and Orchestra Baobab would get a second tune to play.

But there were early signs of trouble. As I understand it, there was no agreement on the name of this potential supergroup. ‘Boban and the Baobabs’ was rejected by the Baobabs. As was ‘Orchestra Boban’, Boban Markovic Orkestar Baobab’, and the ‘Boban Markovic Orchestra’. In the end, an uncomfortable compromise was reached with the ‘Bobs and Babs’. Or, as it said on the opposite side of the door, the ‘Babs and Bobs’.

There was a surprisingly large audience at the Roundhouse, particularly given the complete lack of publicity for this extraordinary venture. There was an even larger crowd on stage as the 12 Bobs and 10 Babs took their places. It was immediately clear that there had been no coordination of shirts. The stripy tops of the Serbian blasters clashed head on with the Bab’s more subtle motifs of fluorescent flowers.

As world music’s answer to Blind Faith launched into the first number, their uncompromising approach to their music became obvious. Barthelemy Attisso delicately opened up with the unmistakeable, sinuous notes of ‘Utra Horas’, long a firm favourite of mine. Only to be followed a few moments later by the four tubas, five trumpets and three drums of the Bobs leaping in with the urgent, pulsating rhythm of ‘Wedding-Cocek’, giving a much needed, almost militaristic boost of energy to proceedings. It was clear that there were some musical differences that needed to be urgently resolved before divorce proceedings set in.

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With such a crowded stage, I could see that Barthelemy Attisso in particular was having a rough time of it. From the rear of the Roundhouse, I found the bass tuba to be far too loud. Standing directly in its path, it must have been shattering. One of the benefits of the ageing process is that the hearing starts to go, but you could tell that Barthelemy couldn’t age quick enough. And, at the same time, he was obliged to breath in what Mustafa Salimovic had just blown out. Despite having to fight against the wind, he eased into a beautifully fluid solo, but you could see the strain on his face as his shirt rhythmically billowed outwards, keeping perfect time with the stomping Serbian classic. All eyes in the auditorium were fixed on his unfeasibly fine head of hair, wondering if the unthinkable was about to happen. Fortunately, there was no Ernie Wise moment. Even better, we were treated to a display of Barthelemy’s supreme skills as he effortlessly played the guitar one-handed.

Things took a turn for the worse when Rudy Gomis was then accidentally jostled by one of Bob’s drummers. With so many on stage, this sort of problem was always on the cards. But, in my view, there was no need for the hard man of Serbian drumming to have been so aggressive about it. And it wasn’t clever for Gomis, quickly followed by Latfi Beneloum on rhythm guitar, to retaliate and try and shove the hard-hitting drumsmith. When an unmovable object is met by two elder statesmen of Senegalese pop music, there is only going to be one result. Stillness. While the Baobabs have a delicate, mellow, guitar sound, Boban and the boys have one telling advantage They are much younger and fatter and, frankly, quite violent.

It became obvious that the Bobans were going out of their way to rile the Baobabs. This was just the sort of immature behaviour that might have been expected from, say, young Marko. But it was Boban himself, supposedly the elder statesman of Serbian brass blowing, who went out of his way to cause trouble. Urging on his boys at every opportunity he then blatantly blew his trumpet right in the face of Issa Cissokho. Immediately, Rudy Gomis retaliated by disconnecting Boban’s amplifier. Only to discover, with some horror, that it had never been switched on in the first place and that Boban was generating the horrendous noise simply from his lungs. If anything, Boban, began blowing even louder.

Throughout all of these difficulties the Bab’s rhythm master, Latfi Beneloum, managed to retain his composure. Despite the growing mayhem, he focused on maintaining a steady tempo. Or at least he appeared to. It was impossible to tell beneath the Serbian onslaught. It was only when Boban himself, leading from the front, rammed a large tuba onto his head that his tempo seemed to falter.

As a peace offering, Marko offered to switch instruments with Charlie N'Diaye. But it immediately became clear that this was simply a tactical ploy, designed to lower the Baobab’s defences. It wasn’t so much that the sturdy bassman’s legs buckled under the weight of the trumpet. It was more that Marko promptly held the bass guitar aloft and then, in a brilliant piece of rock’n’roll showmanship that even Pete Townsend in his pomp would have been proud off, smashed it to smithereens on the stage floor.

Becoming obvious that they were never going to win a direct face-off with Boban and his boys, the Baobabs shifted tack and appealed to the audience. They needed little encouragement. A number of skirmishes broke out, just to the right of the stage, and then mayhem erupted in the balcony as the Baobabs were chased off the stage by the four tuba players.

Despite the utter chaos, the audience immediately began to stomp their feet and roar for an encore. But there was to be no Round 2. A departing Boban triumphantly held his arms aloft, basking in the glory of being the newly crowned heavyweight champion of Senegal.

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Despite only lasting some four minutes, it had been one of the most memorable gigs I’d attended since seeing Cliff Richard and the Sex Pistols all those years ago. Paying my respects backstage, I caught a brief sight of the Baobabs. They look shattered as they took in the enormity of what had happened. Only Latfi Beneloum still had some fight left in him, his brass neck matched by the rest of the tuba. As a bemused-looking Gomis explained, ‘they were just a complete set of fxxxxxx bxxxxxxs!’

Pictures courtesy of ClownsProductions