An African doubleheader

There will be no WOMAD festival in Greece this summer, after the world music circuit’s premier festival was introduced to local audiences two summers ago and followed up last season. But, for consolation, fans of music from the African continent, on which the circuit has been heavily dependent, can venture up to the capital’s open-air Lycabettus Theater tomorrow night for a double-header show featuring two internationally successful African acts, Malian Afro-pop star Salif Keita and Senegal’s similar-minded Orchestra Baobab. Interestingly, there’s more than just a touch of official lineage behind both Keita and Orchestra Baobab. Keita, who has performed in Greece in the past, deprived himself of royal heritage stretching back to 1240 and Soundjata Keita, the founder of the Malian Empire. The artist’s father disowned Keita, now 53, when he decided to focus on music as a career. As for Orchestra Baobab, it was formed when Senegalese government officials called for the establishment of a weekend house band at a Dakar club, the Baobab, in 1970, before eventually taking its music far beyond the West African country’s governmental circles. Early in his career, in the late 1960s, Keita, too, got familiar with stage performance as a member of a government-sponsored band based in Mali’s capital, Bamako. As the soulful singing frontman of that government-sponsored act, the Rail Band, Keita, an albino who lived a lonely childhood with books and music for solace, had already begun attracting attention. He and several other fellow band members moved to the Ivory Coast’s capital, Abidjian, in 1973, and renamed themselves Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux, where the group’s lively fusion of Cuban, Zairean, and Malian influences garnered further attention. A decade on, Keita had gained enough confidence to consider a solo career. He relocated to Paris in 1984, not long before the world music circuit began to blossom, where the artist found a lively transplanted Malian community numbering over 15,000. Three years later, Keita released his debut solo album, «Soro,» which propelled the Malian to the international scene’s forefront. Keita has since released several albums at a steady pace of about one every two years. After developing a more saturated sound, at times going too far, Keita wisely stripped down his sound for last year’s «Moffou» album, his most recent, for greater emphasis on the artist’s ethereal voice. The album, which features a guest appearance from Cesaria Evora, has been well received and put Keita back on track as one of the circuit’s most gifted artists. Tomorrow’s other performer, Orchestra Baobab, had spent years fusing its own sound, a mix of various elements, including Latin, pachanga, salsa, and African sounds, when the act’s namesake premises finally closed down in the late 1970s, which, essentially, opened the doors for an attempt at an international career soon after. The band recorded an album in Paris in 1978, and, by the early 1980s, were Senegal’s biggest band, commanding considerable fees for shows. By the mid-1980s, however, the more electrified and energetic style that emerged on the Dakar circuit left the more languid-sounding Orchestra Baobab behind as an act of previous years. By 1987, they had disbanded but a recent reissue of older work prompted the wiser and older band to re-enter the studio for a new album, last year’s acclaimed «Specialist in All Styles,» and re-emerge for shows worldwide. Tickets are on sale the Hellenic Festival box office (39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.322.1459), Ticket House (42 Panepistimiou, tel 210.360.8366) and Virgin Megastores.

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