ORCHESTRE POLY-RYTHMO DE COTONOU-VOLUME 3 THE SKELETAL ESSENCES OF AFRO FUNK 1969-1980.

ORCHESTRE POLY-RYTHMO DE COTONOU-VOLUME 3 THE SKELETAL ESSENCES OF AFRO FUNK 1969-1980.

During the past few years, German label Analog Africa have established a reputation for releasing critically acclaimed, lovingly compiled and lavish compilations of African music. Analog Africa pride themselves in digging deeper than other labels, eschewing the predictable, in their quest to bring African music to a wider audience. During this period, they’ve discovered a treasure trove of music, from countries that include Angola, Burkina Fasso,Togo and Benin. However, Benin in particular, has provided some of the richest musical pickings for Analog Africa. Why is that? Well, Benin is where The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou hail from.

The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou are among Analog Africa’s favorite sons. Indeed, Samy Ben Radjeb’s Analog Africa label have previously, dedicated two compilations to the funk-laden music of the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou. This started with 2008s The Vodoun Effect and 2009s Echoes Hypnotiques-Volume 2 From The Vaults of Albarika Store 1969-1979. Then in 2011, Analog Africa rereleased the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s 1973 debut album, entitled The 1st Album. Now, Analog Africa have returned to the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s back-catalogue for fourteen further tracks, which comprise The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980. This includes some of the funkiest music the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou ever recorded during their career. 

When Analog Africa founder Samy Ben Radjeb was compiling The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980, first stop was his vast collection of African music. His collection is crammed full of records he’d collected during his previous career, which was working for a German airline. This allowed Samy to seek out and discover, countless hidden gems of African music during his monthly trips to Africa. Finding their way into Samy’s enviable record collection, are the 500 songs that The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou recorded between 1969 and 1983. 

Now during the period between 1969 and 1983, The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou were at the peak of their musical powers. Marrying an unmistakable and inimitable fusion of funk and Afro-beat.  Indeed, so good was the music they recorded, narrowing down 500 tracks to just the fourteen that feature on The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980 couldn’t have been easy. Somehow, Samy managed to do this, and in the process, introduces the listener to a variety of rhythms. These rhythms range from voudoun, jerk fon, sato, pop fon and pachange. These are just a few of the ten rhythms that you’ll hear on The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980, which I’ll pick the highlights of.

For anyone unfamiliar with either Afro-beat of The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou, then not only will The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980 demonstrate just how talented a group they were, but their versatility. During the fourteen tracks The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou veer between ten different rhythmic styles. For most musicians, this would be almost impossible. For The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou it’s just another day at the office. Relishing the challenge, The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou seamlessly, effortlessly and with aplomb, switch between various rhythms. 

Opening The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980 is Ne Rien Voir, Dire, Entendre. Hypnotic and mesmeric, this is an example of vodoun rhythms. Straight away, The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou get into a groove, mixing funk, Afro-beat and jazz. From that groove, they don’t emerge for the next five minutes. It’s driven along by searing guitars, a wailing organ and a myriad of percussion, while the vocal is sung in a call and response style. Like a preacher, the vocalist whips the backing vocalists into a frenzy. They add joyous, chanted harmonies, complete with whoops, providing the perfect accompaniment to this hypnotic vodoun rhythm.

Jerk fon is the most common rhythm The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou play. It’s also when they’re at their funkiest. Proof of this are Houzou Houzou Wa, Akoue We Gni Gan, Honton Kan Do Go Me and Akue We Non Houme. Of these four tracks, the best is Houzou Houzou Wa. Here, the rhythm and brass section become one. They literally feed off each other, encouraging and driving each other to greater heights. The brass section fill in the gaps left by the vocal, while the rhythm section lock into the funkiest of grooves, as funk, Afro-beat, jazz and drama become one.

Quite unlike other types are Afro-beat are the cavacha fon and sato rhythms. Instead, they’ve a Latin rumba influence. The thought of The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou playing music with a Latin rumba influence is a mouthwatering prospect. You’re certainly not disappointed. Adjro Mi, which features a cavacha fon rhythm is best described as an irresistible call to dance. You can’t help but submit to its irresistible charms. Karateka and N’Goua feature a sato rhythm. They literally explode into life, sweeping you in their wake.  Of the two tracks, N’Goua is the best. It’s a hard driving, complex track. With the rhythm section and percussion providing a Latin backdrop, the vocal and horn feed off each other. In a call and response style, they mix power and drama that proves infectiously catchy.

A O O Ida, which features a pop fon rhythm, is easily, the best track on the compilation. It’s a real melting pot of musical styles. Afro-beat, jazz, blues, funk, rock and even Latin music are fused by The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou. If you think Jimi Hendrix combined with seventies funk, complete with a driving, funky rhythm section and wah-wah guitars. Then add a bluesy harmonica, free jazz, The Who and Santana and you’re half way there. The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou don’t just play this track, they live it, mixing power and passion.

As if spent and exhausted, The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou drop the tempo on the understated Vi E Lo. There’s another change of rhythm, this time to pachanga. Originating from Cuba, it’s a fusion of son montuno and merengue. This results in a song that’s melodic, joyous and catchy.

Having veered between rhythms and fused countless musical genres, Pourquoi Pas sees this continue. It combines jazz, funk, Afro-beat and a vocal that wouldn’t sound out of place on a seventies rock album. Somehow, this eclectic combination of influences works. While the rhythm section and percussion drive the arrangement along, stabs of grizzled horns match the vocal for passion. Later, members of The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou get the chance to showcase their individual skills, before joining forces on this genre-sprawling track.

Ai Gabani is a glorious slice of Afro-beat. It’s a bit of a slow-burner, but is well worth the wait. When the track decides to reveal its secrets, sixties rock, funk, Afro-beat and jazz are combined. With frenzied stabs of Hammond organ, searing guitars and a funk-laden rhythm section, an Afro-beat unfolds. Key to the track’s success is organist Bernard Zoundegnon, whose like the Jimi Hendrix of the Hammond organ. Without his energy and enthusiasm, this wouldn’t be half the track.

Ecoute Ma Mélodie, which features a bossa afro rhythm is a marriage of the music of two continents. Here, the elements of Latin and African are fuses. This results in a compelling combination. Veering between subtle and understated to bold and brash, the track is at its best when its pared down to a tight, shuffling, funky groove. Augmented by bursts of blazing, growling horns and a heartfelt vocal, an innovative and irresistible track reveals its secrets

Closing The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980 is Min We Tun So, which is an eleven-minute epic. With just a lone guitar and drum accompanying a vocal that’s filled with emotion, sadness and melancholia, you’d think this was going to be a Magnus Opus of a ballad. That proves to be the case, up to a point. As this heartbreaking and beautiful ballad finishes after five minutes, there’s still six minutes to go. Then after a gap of two minutes, dialogue gives way to a fusion of blues, soul, funk and Afro-beat. It’s a delicious and glorious example of  The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou in full flight, doing what they do so well, fusing musical genres to create their own unique and inimitable style of music.

While there’s just fourteen tracks on The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980, you hear many sides to The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s music. Seamlessly, they veer between musical genres and rhythms. Everything from funk, soul, jazz, rock, Latin, Cuban and Afro-beat is combined over the fourteen tracks. It’s impossible to categorize The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou. Granted, you could refer to it as Afro-beat, but there’s much more to it than that.

Ostensibly, Afro-beat is a loose description of the music on The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980. However, the fourteen tracks could be broken down into ten sub-genres. These are the various rhythmic styles. They range from voudoun, jerk fon, sato, pop fon and pachange. For many groups, changing rhythmic styles would present a challenge. Not for The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou. They relish the challenge, enjoying the opportunity to showcase their considerable musical prowess. Seamlessly, one rhythm style gives way to another. All the time, they’re drawing inspiration from Western, Cuban and Latin music. Quite simply, The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou were hugely talented musicians, musicians who were innovative and versatile. Not only that, but The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou enjoyed longevity and were prolific, releasing over 500 songs. 

Despite their prolificacy, The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou remain something of a musical secret, outside of Benin. Thankfully, independent record labels, including Analog Africa, run by Samy Ben Radjeb is rectifying this. He has released two compilations of The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s music. This started with 2008s The Vodoun Effect and 2009s Echoes Hypnotiques-Volume 2 From The Vaults of Albarika Store 1969-1979. Then in 2011, Analog Africa rereleased the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s 1973 debut album, entitled The 1st Album. Recently, Analog Africa released The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980, the third compilation of The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s music. Of the three compilations, The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980 finds The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou not just at their funkiest, but seamlessly switching between musical genres and rhythms. For anyone whose still unfamiliar with African music’s best kept secret, then The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980 is the place to start. Standout Tracks: Houzou Houzou Wa, Vi E Lo, Ai Gabani and Min We Tun So.

ORCHESTRE POLY-RYTHMO DE COTONOU-VOLUME 3 THE SKELETAL ESSENCES OF AFRO FUNK 1969-1980.

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