Saturday, August 01, 2009
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Legends of Benin (Analog Africa)
Continuing Analog Africa's fascinating series of funk from '70s Benin, crate-digging compiler Ben Redjeb focuses on four of the celebrated bandleaders from the era.
Honoré Avolonto, Antoine Dougbé, Gnonnas Pedro and El Rego led tight and soulful bands that combined local styles such as the polyrhythmic call and response of Agbadja and the heavy, horn-driven Vodoun sound (as delivered by Orchestra Poly-Rythmo on another of these Analog Africa collections), with shades of Afrobeat and Latin flavours blended in to make a dense and funky stew. The ever-present influence of James Brown permeates the album, and some of it is a bit too derivative in places, right down to the repeated horn riffs and yowling yelps. But when they get it right - as on the crisp, funky opener Dadje Von O Von Non by Gnossas Pedro and his Dadjes Band, and Antoine Dougbé loose-limbed, skanking moments - it's a superior soulful sound.
It's Gnonnas Pedro and his catchy, Cuban-influenced agbadja who unsurprisingly stands out most - this legendary band leader also worked with the aforementioned Orchestra Poly-Rythmo and went on to appear with Afro-Latin band Africando. His death in 2004 plunged the nation into mourning and he is surely well-overdue his own career retrospective. Let's hope the good people at Analog Africa are on the case.