The Hits Keep on Coming

A real treat today with two (yes two!) more singles off the local Aux Ecoutes label by T.P. Orchestre Poly Rythmo. On the wonderful compilation by Analog Africa, there is an interview with the Aux Ecoutes producer, Lawani Affissoulayi, that worked with the band recording the singles that were released on the label, where he talks about his experience of Poly-Rythmo.

The company Radelec, that was to give birth to the record label, started off as a trading company, importing a real mixture of goods, such as tobacco, electricals and textiles. Then after getting more involved in electricals, and in particular audio equipment, the company move into P.A. equipment at rallies and eventually Lawani, an employee at the company started to import records from the big West African labels like Decca, Polydor and Philips, and eventually from the US and Europe.

Introducing locals to these sounds from all over the world, there also was the demand for home grown sounds. So the label started to release records from local artists, using the connection that Benin company, Badejo had with Philips in Nigeria, to send the recordings for manufacture in the large pressing plants across the border. One of the first artists to record on the Aux Ecoutes label was El Rego, who went on to release several singles on the label.

The first of today’s singles is another Clement Melone arrangement. The A side is another Afrobeat track with crazy vocals and a lovely organ, the other side is a interesting Rock n’ Roll number with a nice guitar break.

Nougbo Vêhou

Ma Savo Home

The other single today is arranged by another legend of Benin music, Avolonto Honoré, who was a great singer/songwriter with Poly-Rythmo as well as Black Santiago and Los Commandos. The singer on the single is Eskill Lohento, who was one of the early members of the band with Melone.

Eskill Loento

The A side is a Latin track, specifically a Cuban Pachanga. The band were influenced by and worked with Cuban musicians such as bandleader of the Fania All Stars, Johnny Pacheco, as well as Orquesta Aragon, Papaito and Roberto Torres who all came to Cotonou. The B side is credited as a Jerk, a fast rock song with strong vocals and a nice driving rhythm section and guitar.

Avolonto Honoré

Wloui Bonu Houide

Akue We Non Houme

This band really show no let up and the the tunes just keep coming!

Record Details:
Clément Mêlonê et L’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Nougbo Vêhou (La Véreté Blesse) / Ma Savo Home (197?) – Aux Ecoutes (LA 41)

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Avolonto Honoré Chanté par Eskill Lohento et L’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Wloui Bonu Houide / Akue We Non Houme (197?) – Aux Ecoutes (LA 740)

poly740a poly740b

Voodoo Two

Continuing our look at T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou and specifically the singles on the Aux Ecoutes label. Today, we will go into more depth of how the band evolved and explore the characteristics of this Voudoun music.

Clement Melone formed Group Meloclem with François Hoessou in the early 1960s. They were not so much a band as a duo that performed music for a children’s entertainment show broadcast on the radio with Melone playing accordian. In 1964 they recruited singer Eskill Lohento and later guitarist Martin Vignon to add a bit more depth to their sound. The band struggled with cash flow and often had to borrow instruments from Creppy Wallace, manager of other local band Sunny Blacks.

Sato Drum

Sato Drum

Eventually the two bands merged forming a nine piece band that initally Melone played drums in, until the arrival of drummer Armeoudji “Vicky” Joseph, forced him to pick up the guitar. Wallace’s family wanted a return from the band as they were using equipment provided by Wallace and so they were forced to find a sponsor. The band changed their names (Orchestre Poly-Disco and Orchestre El Ritmo) several times depending on the sponsor they found to repay Wallace’s family for the use of his instruments and later recruited another singer Vincent Ahehehinnou.

There are various other comings, goings and rearrangements within the band that help shape the constantly evolving and complex sound. However, a couple of elements, specifically Voudoun Rhythms, can be seen to dominate and run through the music. Sato is a driving rhythm played on a large ceremonial drum, and Sakpata is a rhythm played for the divinity who protects people from smallpox.

Sakpata - Divinity of Smallpox

Sakpata – Divinity of Smallpox

Today’s single is the last of the Aux Ecoutes releases and is a later version of Gerdarme Si We that was posted last week. I have posted the B side, which is a nice pounding Afro Beat tune.

More Aux Ecoutes singles to follow shortly!

Thanks to Analog Africa releases for some of the information on Poly-Rythmo. There are now 3 volumes on the band, all of which are highly recommended.

Gerdarme Si We

Ahou Gan Mi An

Record Details:
Clément Mêlonê et L’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Gendarme Si Wè / Ahou Gan Mi An (197?) – Aux Ecoutes (LA 741)

poly1 poly2

Voodoo Music

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.

Melone Clement

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.

Nagra 4 Track

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

Record Details:
Clément Mêlonê et L’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Zoun Mi Bo / Gendarme Si Wè (197?) – Aux Ecoutes (LA 40)

Zounmibo Gendarme Si We

You’re Who?

Sometimes music can be confusing*. Especially when bands release versions of songs that are not strict covers and rename the song!

In 1971 Fela Kuti released Who’re You? a raw early Afrobeat track, with subtle horns and driving percussion. It is actually one of the early releases of Africa 70, Fela’s band initially named as Nigeria 70, and it sowed the seeds that were to later blossom into the fully fledged, intricately arranged compositions that made up the classic Fela cuts of the mid to late 1970’s.

Afro National, a band from Freetown, Sierra Leone, released an incredible version of this song two years later as Mr Who You Be; playfully renaming the track and confusing me in the process, as I was sure it was a Fela track I had heard before. I love their version, which strips back the horns, speeds up the drums and injects a breath of fresh air into the song. Mr. Who You Be

The band released several LP’s and singles, mainly of Highlife and Calypso songs and only a few Afrobeat tracks, some with the voice of Patricia Koroma.

Record Details:
Afro National – Dem Kick / Mr. Who You Be (1973) – Afro National (Record No. 2)
BsideAside

*Music and record collecting can also be magical, as digger extraordinaire, Duncan Brooker, demonstrates in this interview, where he discusses his efforts to track down the band.

UPDATE:
The plot thickens….
There appears to be a rare early Fela Kuti & Koola Lobitos single “Mr. Who Are You” that could have been the song that Afro National were referencing. This song was supposedly very popular in the whole of West Africa and could explain why it was released by Afro National in Sierra Leone.

Another theory is that “Mr. Who Are You” is an early version of “Who’re You?”, the song Fela recorded with African 70 in 1971. The problem is I have not heard this early version and nor would it appear have many others! Afro National’s “Mr. Who Be You” does bear some similarities to “Who’re You?” but it is definitely not a straight cover.

It therefore appears that both these theories have weight and that there is a lost Fela single that was popular in West Africa, which may have evolved into the later “Who’re You?”

Watch this space!

Thanks to Uchenna Ikonne for this further information.

Akwaaba!

This is the first word I heard when I arrived in Ghana and Africa. It means “Welcome” and fittingly it is the first word I give you as I start my new blog, which I aim to update regularly, documenting my travels through African music.

Ghanaian Highlife was my first real taste of African music, specifically the tracks compiled by Soundway Records on Ghana Special; in short it blew me away and is the reason I booked a flight for Ghana at Easter in 2011. Anyway, that is another story that I am sure I will cover in the future.

Where better to start a blog on the music of the Dark Continent, as labelled by the early Victorian explorers, than with Nigeria and Africa’s best known musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who single-handedly brought African music to the world’s attention, blending Highlife, Rock, Jazz and Funk into a new sound that, although he questioned the term, came to be known as Afrobeat. Fela’s influence cannot be disputed and can clearly be seen in the dozens of imitators as well as the legacy left by his bands –  Africa 70 and Egypt 80.

The first Fela record I got was Black President and it finds him in a particularly Jazzy mood with sax solos dominating most of the album. That is not to say that the elements of Afrobeat are not there, they are, just slightly toned down – subtle West African guitar, driving drums and percussion, and repetitious call and response vocals. The major theme of the album is the purging of Africa’s land and economy by the world. Fela shows no restraint, calling them “Motherfuckers, bastard motherfuckers” (I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)).

On a side note, the incredible keyboards on I.T.T. are by, a then eighteen year old, Dele Sosimi, who later left the Egypt 80 with Fela’s son Femi to form Femi Anikulapo-Kuti and the Positive Force and later his own band, Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra. The latter band play the Afriganza Festival at the Blind Tiger in Brighton on 16th March and are well worth checking out.


Record Details:

Fela Kuti – Black President (1981) – ARISTA (SPART 1167)

frontrearFela1Fela2