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Senegal's Orchestra Baobab fires up Yoshi's with its island-music magic

The Bay Area is no stranger to the sun-soaked melodies, breezy tropical beats, and punchy horns of Afro-Cuban pop and jazz. When visas were easier to come by a few years back, bands like Los Van Van, Cubanismo!, and the circle of players associated with the hugely popular Buena Vista Social Club regularly made the rounds at the finer local nightspots, firing up dance floors and stirring a lust for the exotic in listeners of all ages. So when Senegalese sensation Orchestra Baobab regrouped last summer for its first tour in 15 years, San Francisco fans were primed to get with the groove, packing the ensemble"s single concert appearance at the Fillmore to capacity.

One-time leader of the vibrant West African pop scene, Baobab stands out for its dynamic stylistic mix, which marries elements of Cuban rhythms (cha-cha-cha and clave), skirt-swinging Latin hybrids (pachanga and salsa), and a host of guitar-driven Afropop flavors. The 11-piece orchestra"s midtempo combo platter of genres is no less evocative but far more modern than the quaint traditions of the Buena Vista septuagenarians. While a half-dozen vocalists lead the tunes with catchy choruses ripe for call-and-response audience participation, awesome six-string slinger Barthelemy Attisso pumps out tasty-cool solos, at times echoing the heyday of Jamaican roots-rock. Baobab"s colorful patchwork plays up the African in its Afro-Cuban sound, which, as those who"ve seen the act live know for sure, is key to its island-music magic.

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