After releases by Zimbabwean 70s bands the Green Arrows and Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, the Analog Africa label now delves into the amazing history of music from 1970s Benin and Togo. This compilation highlights forgotten raw and psychedelic Afro sounds, and the well-researched liner notes tell fascinating stories to accompany the mind-blowing music. The essence of Analog Africa is clear; searching in dusty warehouses for forgotten music to keep the sound alive! Label owner & vinyl collector Samy Ben Redjeb arrived in Cotonou, Benin, "without any special expectations, just hoping to lay my hands on few good records - what I found in the process cannot really be described in words". Like most modern music in French-speaking West African countries, the music of Benin and Togo was influenced by a few main musical currents: Cuban, Congolese and local traditional music, as well as Chanson Francaise. Additionally, the geographical location of Benin and Togo - sandwiched between Ghana and Nigeria - exposed Beninese and Togolese musicians to Highlife music. The cultural and spiritual riches of traditional Beninese music had an immense impact on the sound of Benin's modern music. Benin is the birth place of Vodun (or, as it is known in the West, Voodoo), and some of the rhythms used during traditional rituals - Sakpata, Sato, Agbadja, Tchenkoumé and many others - were fused to Soul and Latin music as early as the mid-1960s and later to Funk. In the late 60s and early 70s rock and soul music started creeping into the region. In particular, the music of James Brown and Johnny Halladay became immensely popular with university students. It was then that the music scene in Benin really started to take off. That fusion is the essence of this compilation. CD includes a well researched 44-page booklet & rare photographs.
In the 1970s there was no 'world music'. Benin was a Marxist republic recently born out of Dahomey and Togo was in the first decade of what would turn out to be the epic dictatorship of General Gnassingbé Eyadéma. Unless you were born in one of these countries, you'd never have got to hear the voodoo funk music that was being conjured up in what must be two of the richest cultural melting pots on the planet.
Fusion is almost as abused a term as folk. But this is what it sounds like. Pick a track. Mi Kple dogbekpo, the opener, has Cuban brass, a Congolese chorus, a psychedelic riff shaped solely for shaping. On the next one, Mi Ma Kpe Dji, the spirit is blues, but moulded by James Brown and Nigerian High Life. It's A Vanity is more soul, more sex. The band on this, as well as two other tracks, is the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, who took the Afro sound to new levels by ensuring that even while they copied Western rhythms, there was always a fiery injection of Beninese passion or, when relevant, politics. Their big hit, Gbeti Madjro - track five here - was written during a period of turmoil and stirred up its own revolution in the local music scene.
Ouidah, on Benin's Atlantic Coast, is home to a large Brazilian community - the Agoudas, descendants of slaves who returned from Brazil at the end of the 19th century. They brought back dances and proto-samba sounds, which worked their way into the mix in the 70s.
These artists also heard French chanson, Johnny Hallyday - an icon in the West African university scene - US funk, as well as local rhythms on the radio. Out of this chaos, comparable at the time to the far more widely known Brazilian coastal music scene, came great riches. Everything, somehow, gels. Why, it's harder to fathom. Few of these musicians were trained, and all had to learn how to blast their way through out-of-tune solos and off-beat drummers. Perhaps it's the screams and the psychedelic state that holds together the random elements and disparate talents. After all, Benin is the birthplace of Vodun, as in voodoo, which was all about melting pots and losing yourself in wild traditional rhythms such as Sakpata, Sato, Agbadja, Tchenkoumé, to name only a few.
Africa Scream Contest - what a title - is the third compilation to come from Analog Africa compilation. Like the others, this disc proves that music doesn't have much truck with geopolitics. When New York slicksters thought they were at the centre of the universe - Studio 54, say - these bands were taking the coolest parts of funk, soul and disco, reinventing it and, at the same time, transforming their own music and culture. A lot of the reaction to West African blues has focused on origins and a going-back-to-roots, but the groove in Benin and Togo was far deeper and far more inventive than that. --Chris Moss
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