At long last, it was inevitable, we come to one of the greatest bands in Africa, the wonderfully named T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou. Actually if you break down their name you get a good sense of what they are about. “T.P.” stands for “tout puissant”, meaning “all powerful”, “orchestre” being a large contingent of musicians, “poly-rythmo” is many rhythms, and the band is from Cotonou in Benin.
For several years I knew of the band as one of the greats but never really fully appreciated their quality. Sure, I knew they were a huge presence in West African music, at least judging by the number of compilations and reissues that have been released on them alone. However, I found the music daunting and almost too powerful. Maybe it was the band’s use of Vodoun based rhythms that made the music scarily complex, and with over 500 tracks spread over numerous LPs and 45s to choose from, pretty overwelming.
One of Poly-Rythmo’s founding members was Clement Melone, in what seems to be a trend, decided to pursue a recording contract rather than his studies; we will go into details of the founding of the band in later posts – there will be several. The band’s first major break came when Benin record label, Albrika Store, a folk and traditional music shop, signed the band. The label had connections with big recording studios and pressing plants in Lagos and were therefore able to offer the band access to state of the art recording equipment as well as transportation. Their connection was local businessman Seidu Adrissa, who made the connection and also funded the band and helped them buy new instruments.
However, the income of a recording artist was never enough and so to supplement their income Poly-Rythmo, recorded on the side at several of the local labels that were emerging in Benin in the early 1970s. One such label was Aux Ecoutes, and is the label that released today’s single.
I have posted both sides from the 45, the first being an Afrobeat number and the B side an Afro-Latin style track. The pressing and recording demonstrates the difference between these local Benin labels, that used primitive recording equipment, with the band reportedly huddled around a Nagra 4 -track, and the records on released on Albrika Store and the use of the latest technologies.
Personally I find the Aux Ecoutes singles to have a lot of raw rustic charm and will be posting several more of them shortly – bear in mind the sound and pressing quality leaves a lot to be desired but the music shines through regardless.
Zoun Mi Bo
Gendarme Si Wè
Clément Mêlonê et L’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Zoun Mi Bo / Gendarme Si Wè (197?) – Aux Ecoutes (LA 40)