Saturday, December 20, 2008

ORCHESTRE POLY-RYTHMO DE COTONOU - Volume One: The Vodoun Effect 1973-1975 (Analog Africa)

More extraordinary, and previously inexplicably unknown, vintage West African funk unearthed by the diligent Afo-enthusiasts at Analog Africa. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou were from Benin, the small coastal country to the west of Nigeria, and they remained a relatively obscure band outside their native country (with as few as 500 pressings a time for some of their recordings) which seems astonishing when listening to the vibrant, heavy and enticingly polyrhythmic sound (the name doesn’t lie!) that they were plying at the time. Built around snappy, clipped guitar lines and a satisfyingly loose rhythm section, with pumping blasts from the horn section and watery organ adding a swaying, psychedelic texture to the sound, the sound (derived from the traditional Vodoun - or voodoo - rhythm called ‘sato’) is a perfect, gritty fit between the more sophisticated jazz-influence of Afrobeat and the dance friendly highlife music of Ghana and Nigeria. It’s rough and ready stuff at times (most of this music was originally recorded onto reel-reel-tape recorders using just a couple of mikes), and the vocalists are functional at best - chanting, pushing the beat on rather than being a focal point to the songs. However, it’s the intense drive of the instrumentation that appeals, with horns and guitars coming in and out of focus whilst the drummer beats out a strong, resolute beat over a babbling, bubbling bass roll. It’s ideal music for a dank and sweaty club set where groove trumps gloss, and there’s yet more of it to come - this is Volume One of Two, and given that it’s three decades since this music had even a very limited exposure, the time is ripe for the Vodoun effect to take full funky centre stage for a much wider audience.

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