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