Due to innumerable reasons, some great artists and bands fail to achieve the posterity of their peers, and so it was with Benin’s Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou whose name should be as recognisable to African music fans as Orchestra Baobab and the Bamako Rail Band.
Working to right this wrong is Analog Africa’s founder Samy Ben Redjeb, who spent years tracking down the numerous tracks cut by this prolific group of musicians. Subtitled ‘From the Vaults of Albarika Store 1969-1979’, Echoes Hypnotiques is the second instalment is Ben Redjeb’s excellent series and focuses on music recorded in the EMI studios in Lagos for Benin’s Albarika Store label.
Benin is a small country but musically it punches above its weight with a thriving music scene, due in no small part to the importance of music and dance to the ceremonies of the Voudon (or Voodoo in the west) religion, the primary cultural force in Benin. The Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou, one of Benin’s most popular bands during this period, combine local rhythms with Afrobeat and, from further afield, funk, Latin and soul, to create music with a truly hypnotic groove (hence the title).
Propelled by ever-present percussion, blaring horns and nifty guitar work, the band’s sometimes sprawling songs also feature various vocalists, who add to the mix rather than set the tone. The lead singer often leads a call and response figure with a chorus repeating phrases, as on the energetic ‘Noude Ma Gnin Tche De Me’. Members of the Orchestre also indulge in some brief but deeply funky soloing. Two guitar solos – on the previously mentioned track and ‘Houte djein Nada’ – stand out especially, as does a soulful sax solo on ‘Azoo De Ma Gnin Kpevi’.
The spirit of the Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou is not about soloing though, but sustaining the groove. What is striking about this compilation of studio-recorded tracks is the atmosphere of a live performance to these tracks. The sound quality is usually pretty good and a little of bit of poor tuning and rough-round-the-edges playing doesn’t spoil the good vibes and talented musicianship at play here.