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Cotonou Club

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BBC Review

Based in Benin’s seaside city of Cotonou, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo are the most recent great West African band to make a post-millennial comeback. Following a path similar to that trodden by Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab and Mali’s Orchestre Super Rail Band, Poly-Rythmo have emerged from prolonged hibernation as a result of several re-issues and interest from abroad.

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo’s heyday was the 1970s, as their funk, soul and Afrobeat influences underline. However, a combination of economic and political factors, management issues, the death of key members and bad luck meant this once-prolific band effectively stopped recording in 1983, and only rarely performed afterwards. But since 2003, compilations on Popular African Music, Luaka Bop, Soundway and Analog Africa (including African Scream Contest and Legends of Benin) have given them much wider exposure. Consequently, they were invited to headline the 2010 African Soul Rebels tour and recorded this new album.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cotonou Club largely consists of re-recordings of vintage material; some of the original pieces can be heard on the albums mentioned above. Ne Te Faches Pas is a strong opener, which retains its rubbery disco bounce and slick brass riffs (strongly reminiscent of late-80s OK Jazz), but is less than half the length of the version on The Kings of Benin (2003). In contrast, Gbeti Madjro is only slightly shorter than the old version, and has a welcome contribution from Benin’s sole superstar, Angelique Kidjo, who apparently used to sing with them. Of the other highlights, their take on Gnonnas Pedro’s Afro-funk gem Von Vo Nono, and the Afrobeat shuffle of Holonon (complete with James Brown-style screams and Moise Loko’s wonderfully cheesy keyboards) are the most noteworthy.

Sadly, the rest is less consistent. Lion Is Burning was recorded with two members of celebrity fans Franz Ferdinand but is little more than a jam, and seems to borrow quite heavily from Hugh Masekela’s Don’t Go Lose It Baby. Jeremy Tordjman’s rather flowery sleeve notes outstay their welcome, making spurious mileage out of Poly-Rythmo’s purely musical connections with the vodoun religion, which members are keen to stress they don’t adhere to. And it’s a shame the band don’t stretch out a little more on some of the songs. Even so, if Cotonou Club isn’t quite what it might have been, fans should bear in mind that the reformed Orchestra Baobab didn’t really hit their stride until their second ‘comeback’ recording.

--Jon Lusk

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--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x8e366378) out of 5 stars 3 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e1dfa50) out of 5 stars Master Musicians at Work 7 Aug. 2011
By The Nomadic Tribesman - Published on
Format: Audio CD
No one could really criticize you if you didn't expect this newly recorded album to be as good as the rereleases of Poly-Rythmo's 1960's and 1970's material. I too was skeptical mainly because the bar was set so high by the collections on Soundway and Analog Africa. There were so many reasons for this album to fall short. After all, the songs that had made Poly-Rythmo popular in the western world were not only recorded over 30 years ago but they were also not the songs that made them popular in Benin and other West African countries. Additionally the personnel of the band had changed greatly from this time and they were bringing back a singer with whom they had parted ways over 30 years ago. It's seems unlikely that they were playing these songs five years ago, except maybe for the latin-influenced numbers.
For me, the moment of truth in this album comes during the first song, "Ne Te Fache Pas," when the guitarist launches into Papillon's guitar solo. While the cry of "Paillon" is sorely missed, the solo is expertly handled with flair. And if it bothers you that this version is almost half the time as the one on Kings of Benin Urban Groove 1972-80, just remember that on that version they just play the song twice. The new version of "Gbeti Madjro" is spiced up nicely with vocals by Angelique Kidjo. And the oft-mentioned collaboration with Franz Ferdinand, "Lion is Burning," which starts with a relatively lame disco riff is, after about a minute, nicely funked up by Poly-Rythmo. I miss having longer songs. Ironically though, the one I wish was longer is "Lion is Burning", which ends ways too soon after a great percussion break. They should have played it twice.
What I like best about this album is the clarity of the production. It is the first time I can clearly hear the percussion backing of all the songs and it is a revelation. It is like opening an old watch and seeing the gears all working for the first time. While this wouldn't be my top Poly-Rythmo recommendation, I wouldn't neglect it either.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e1dfdbc) out of 5 stars Wonderful Afrobeat 25 Mar. 2012
By stutron - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Grabbed this album after it made the NY Times Top 10 Albums of 2011 and was not disappointed. This band apparently was reunited after nearly twenty years thanks to the strong urging of a fan. You would never guess they haven't played together in that long - this is a tight, tight band, their horns just deliver a knockout punch. If you're not hooked by the first song and uncontrollably dancing, please seek medical attention immediately. Crisp guitar riffs, driving bass and rhythms that move your body like a puppet, this is just a fun, solid afrobeat album.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e1e2dc8) out of 5 stars Very good international sound 20 Aug. 2011
By Zy - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Guitar focused folky grooves from around the globe with an emphasis on the African rock styling. Strut records release. Pretty good.
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