Afro funk, beat, cavacha and a whole host of infectious genres from the guys at the Analog Africa label.
‘Legends Of Benin’ (Afro Funk – Cavacha – Agbadja – Afro Beat 1969 to 1981) – Gnonnas Pedro/ El Rego/ Antoine Dougbe/ Honore Avolonto.
Double Album available on both Vinyl (version reviewed and CD)Accompanied by the following backing bands: –
L’Orchestre Black Santiago
Compiled by Samy Ben Rejob for Analog Africa Records, 2009
1. ‘Dadje Von O Von Non’ – Gnonnas Pedro et Ses Dadjes (3:53)
2. ‘Feeling You Got’ – El Rego et Ses Commandos (3:44)
3. ‘Honton Soukpo Gnon’ Antoine Dougbe (7:05)
4. ‘E Nan Mian Nuku’ – El Rego et Ses Commandos (4:26)
1. ‘Tin Lin Non’ – Honore Avolonto et l’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo (8:48)
2. ‘Okpo Videa Bassouo’ – Gnonnas Pedro et Ses Panchos (3:30)
3. ‘Ya Mi Ton Gbo’ – Dougbe et l’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo (6:34)
1. ‘Nou Akuenon Hwlin Me Sin Koussio’ – Antoine Dougbe (5:03)
2. ‘Na Mi Do Gbe Hue Nu’ – Honore Avolonto (6:44)
3. ‘Vimado Wingnan’ – El Rego et Ses Commandos (3:01)
4. ‘Dou Dagbe We’ – Honore Avolonto et l’Orchestre Black Santiago (4:26)
1. ‘Djobime’ – El Rego et Ses Commandos (2:31)
2. ‘Kovito Gbe De Towe’ – Antoine Dougbe (6:39)
3. ‘La Musica en Verite’ – Gnonnas Pedro et Ses Dadjes (7:08)
Afro beat, Afro funk and all its many bewildering sub genres have always slightly perplexed me. I’ve often taken a peek and thumb through the African music section in all the record shops that I regularly frequent, though until now I have left it well alone. The sheer depth and number of styles have often left me confused: as a novice I feel a little shy to point out my ignorance, though it never usually stops me from having a punt and purchasing a record on chance alone.
Well on this occasion my first ever-actual buy was aided by complete chance.
I happened to be in Borderline Records store in Brighton, an emporium of reissues and forgotten gems from bygone eras. On that particular – now enshrined in myth – day they were playing some pretty groovy foot tapping sounds; a quaint version of early Stax mixed with liberal lashings of James Brown’s infused funky Zaire period soul: to be exact!
Instantly I became hooked as my whole body decided to break out into some embarrassing Paul Simon induced dance routine.
Cut a long story short I ended up asking the owner what he was playing, he kindly showed me what it was and I ended up with Legends Of Benin, a lovingly compiled album of 14 tracks by four of the African country of Benin’s finest artists. In case your knowledge of African geography is shaky, Benin is in the west and borders Togo, Nigeria, Burkino Faso and Niger. Tightly caged in by its neighbours, the influence of all these regions leaks into the music to create a unique mash-up of rhythms and beats that switches from rhumba to rocksteady in the blink of an eye.
The artists on this album include the likes of Gnonnas Pedro, a politically charged crusader; El Rego, an entrepreneur of dubious enterprises including a brothel and a boxing club; Antione Dougbe a much feared Vodun priest, and Honore Avolonto, responsible for the country’s biggest selling album of all time.
These pioneers of poly-rhythmic charged music were all collected together by German based label Analog Africa’s Samy Ben Redjeb – an honourable sounding advocate of the genre who should be commended for his efforts.
His personal sleeve notes lavishly grace the record with a real fondness and warmth, though he had many problems licensing and obtaining permission to release this album. Three of the four artists are no longer with us so their legacy has been left in the hands of relatives and old musical comrades, not all of them initially eager or trusting in the beginning.
The music itself is a combination of funk, rhumba, soul and an attempt at reggae, all served with a thick dose of infectious grooving traditional African rhythms and instruments. Local bands to the region back each of the artists, from the military moniker Commandos , to the exotically named Black Santiago.
Being a former colony of France the songs are titled and sung in the former interlopers language, if it makes sense these tracks even sound like they’re being played in French too!
Highlights on this record include El Rego’s ‘Feeling You Out’, which has an inviting bass line that introduces a prime slice of James Brown at the Apollo rawness, whilst the sax sounding squeaks coupled with a break beat backing make this sound like a missing Northern soul stomper.
Antoine Dougbe, the high priest of some primal religion who professed to be the spirit of a dead relative sent back to this world so he could heal and curse those who cross him, concocts a swinging style of pulsating and joyful abandon on ‘Ya Mi Ton Gba’. His more down to earth day job as a musician is less frightening then his reputation precedes.
Honore Avolonto on ‘Tin Lin Non’ delivers an Afro beat groove behemoth that just never lets up, whilst Gnonnas unleashes a call and response soul spine tinkler with ‘Okpo Videa Bassovo’. His second contribution, ‘Dadje Von O Von Non’, opens with ghostly sounding twanging guitars and features catcalls over a bouncing melody.
Some of the tracks are more laid back and quite subtle, evoking comparisons in some ways to ska.
There is a real sense of authenticity running through these tunes and they come across as quite fun to make.
All the musicianship is tight with plenty of space to let it breath, there are no solos or hogging of the limelight to be found.
As to all the different genres I’m still not too sure how they’re prescribed only that it has something to do with timing, the instrumentation and that some of the styles are derived from ceremonies and folklore. None of this matters of course as they all sound great.
Chuck this on to get any party moving and to impress your know it all friends.
Thanks Analog Africa for introducing me to an untapped rich library of quality world music.