Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cotonou Club by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou

Album artwork.
I often dream and get ideas into my head about some great voyage into the unknown that I wish to take. I have been lucky enough to have had a few chance meetings and brief conversations recently which have already taken root in my mind. With a bit of effort they should definitely come to fruition. So, my most recent dream? Bénin and Ghana, by way of Togo - most likely over a two week period.

With thoughts of visiting a project in Bénin firmly planted, I made the effort to indulge in a bit of research related to a West African country that, although looking small on the map, seemingly has an immensely rich cultural heritage. I found a couple of things in my initial efforts: a novella called The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin and an album called Cotonou Club by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou.

The former, although a beautifully intriguing novella, was written by a yovo (the Béninois equivalent of mzungu). I needed something a little more African and the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo is just that.

The band originally came into being around the mid-1970s, but had stopped recording by the 1983 for a number of reasons, cited as being, "a combination of economic and political factors, management issues, the death of key members and bad luck" by the BBC. It would appear that the modern world's penchant for World Music reawakened global interest and got the band back in the studios and back on the road.

The music that pours forth from Cotonou Club is a lively stream of Afrobeat and funk music which harks back to the band's original heyday of the mid-1970s. Strangely, the music seems to sound fresh and contemporary and not just as a result of including more recent musicians like Angélique Kidjo -  Bénin's biggest musical export. 

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. Photo © Guardian.
Songs of note include: 'Ne Te Fache Pas' with it's springy bassline and rousing chorus of voices, 'Von vo Nono' with its catchy horn hook and driving bass and 'Gbeti Madjro', the duet with Angélique Kidjo, with its pacey and intense vocal delivery and instrumentation. Undoubtably all the songs build towards the climax of the album, 'Lion is Burning' - a song which combines all the best elements of all the songs into four minutes of outrageously funky and exciting music. 

Listening to the music of the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo only adds fuel to my dreams of heading to Bénin. I hope one day to make it the soundtrack to my own journey there.

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