Dec 30, 2009
A legendary Underground Afro-funk recording in 1972, including some obscure, dark Psych funk cuts & African beats, like in "Chant To Mother Earth" & "Preacherman".
This band from Nigeria became very famous among collectors around the world.One rarest album from Africa, for sure! The history tell us "BLO" name is from B for Berkely, L for Laolu and O for Odumosu. Exist a very limited reissue too (500 copies).
Blo (aka BLO) were an early 70's African band that fused the Afrobeat rhythms of their native Nigeria with the mind-expanding psychedelia and funk of late 60's rock from the Western world. The three members, Berkely Jones, Laolu Akintobi and Mike Odumosu created the name BLO from B for Berkely, L for Laolu and O for Odumosu. Their debut record, Chapter One, is considered by many to be one of the most sought after albums from Africa. While it isn't nearly as funky as their following albums, it still stands as one of the best psych-funk albums to ever come out of Africa.
Chapter One walks the line between rock, funk and psychedelia. Perhaps the most obvious reward in listening to this album is the great guitar work featured prominently throughout the length of the album. At times it is straight forward and driving, yet most of the time it has an "out of this world" psychedelic sound to it. On the instrumental track, "Miss Sagitt", it even sounds Arabic towards the latter half of the track. The bass and drums are fantastic also, but most of the “African beat" was reduced to traces because they were in fact completely absorbed into the heavy rock drive. As for the vocals, they are sparse throughout, and the majority of these tracks would be instrumentals were it not for the occasional vocal outburst. The group would change direction after this album after being pressured by their label to make a more funk dominated record.
The Blo experience is best heard on RPM’s Chapters and Phases (2009). This reissue includes both the Chapter One (1973) and Phase II LPs in their entirety.
Blo (based out of Lagos) grew out of the Clusters, a popular late 60s group who made ends meet by covering Beatles and Stones tunes. Before long people began refering to the Clusters as the “Nigerian Beatles” but the group also soaked up the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, and local hero Fela Kuti. To make a long story short things did not work out for the Clusters who included future Blo members Akintobi and guitarist/songwriter Berkley Jones. In 1972 Blo made their Christmas debut at Lagos City Stadium and by all accounts blew supporting act Osibisa off stage. Lagos City Stadium housed 10,000 vistors strong, all who were chanting “we want Blo” that day - a trio they had never seen before!
Press reports began describing Blo as Africa’s first real rock band. Following the explosive live performance at Lagos City EMI issued Chapter One in the summer of 73. At the time nothing sounded quite like it. The album is an extraordinary mixture of funky James Brown beats and spacey psychedelic guitar jams (check out the superb instrumental ”Miss Sagitt”). Album opener “Preacherman” combines both these styles into something really far out and classic. The spiraling acid guitar solos and shuffling drum work really stand out on this cut. Brilliant. Every song is worth listening to multiple times but I’ll single out all 6 minutes of “Don’t” for it’s hazy, hypnotic vibe that’s similiar to early Can.
Sadly, Blo never really broke out of Nigeria despite having the look, superior chops, and an excellent batch of songs.
01. Preacher Man
02. Time to Face the Sun
04. We Gonna Have a Party
06. Chant to Mother Earth
07. We are out Together
08. Miss Sagitt (Instrumental)
Dec 11, 2009
On the new Mr. Something Something record the band members wanted to capture, as much as possible, the energy and the improvisations that characterize their live performances. As a result, they recorded majority of the tracks on Shine Your Face in one single day at Toronto's famous Metalworks studio where gold and platinum record awards for artists like David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and Prince line the corridors.
Shine Your Face was produced by Mr. Something Something's own John MacLean and mixed by Scott Lake who has worked with Sam Roberts, Kathleen Edwards, The Stills and countless other great recording artists. The album features two Canadian trumpet icons who have worked with the "Somethings" in the past; Kevin Turcotte, a five-time Trumpeter of the Year at the Canadian National Jazz Awards and Brian O'Kane (Diana Krall, Aretha Franklin).
The mood on Shine Your Face is at times dark but always hopeful. The first line of album opener The Antidote sets the tone: "When the news is bad I need you to remind me that the urge to create beauty can't be contained", channeling the sentiments of a generation faced with the bill for their parents' excesses. Only The Maker is an attempt to come to terms with the cruel injustices of the world. Make Your Mind is a calm enumeration of horrors carried out in the name of God.
City of Sand is a feverish vision of societal breakdown. Why Why Why explores the physical and emotional landscape of suburbia, from above and within, whereas What Are You Waiting For poses a question that elicits responses tinged with guilt or longing. Many of the songs describe spaces where humanity seems to be absent, be it in a war-torn country or in the soulless, manufactured landscapes of box store desolation. Ultimately, Shine Your Face is a plea to fill these vacant spaces with love and compassion, with joy and creativity, with wisdom and meaningful work.
The main problem with most Afrobeat revivalist bands is that they’re trying too hard to be something they’re not.
It’s hard not to question the artistic honesty of musicians earnestly trying to imitate a genre from another era and culture, no matter how well they might succeed at simulating it.
This is exactly where Toronto’s Mr. Something Something come in. Sure, they’ve got that basic Fela Kuti groove down, but instead of being led by some white dude doing a Nigerian accent, they’ve got a proudly Swedish frontman whose smooth soul-pop crooning adds an entirely different flavour to the mix and a band as much influenced by American jazz as African funk.
The earnest hippy politics in the lyrics might go over the line in places, but you have to expect a bit of that from a band who’ve built a bicycle-powered sound system (which even cynics have to admit is kind of neat).
‘Shine Your Face” is an artful blend of something serious with something lively. Just what you’d expect from Mr. Something Something, a Toronto band that has been pairing dance beats with social causes and eco-activism since 2003.
The group will be kicking up dust onstage at CSPS in Cedar Rapids at 8 p.m. Saturday. That’s a good thing. A very good thing. So put on your dancing shoes and go. I guarantee you won’t be sitting in your seat very long.
All eight songs on the new CD grab you from their opening Afrobeat pulses and reel you in with crisp, blistering horns and lyrics that tug at your sense of wanting to right so many wrongs.
“The Antidote” sets the tone, with infectious, bright rhythms. You know immediately you’ve come across something special. The first words from lead vocalist Johan Hultqvist sum up the spirit of the project:
“When the news is bad I need you to remind me that the urge to create beauty can’t be contained.”
Even with lyrics that mirror the horrors of war, the ache in an old man’s heart and the need to affect change, the music is jubilant and celebratory.
Each track builds
on the fusion of Afrobeat and jazz, with just a hint of pop and layers of complicated syncopated rhythms. Sometimes other voices join Hultqvist with harmony, but often they just echo the melody in an almost haunting way.
The razor-sharp precision of the staccato horn line in “Why, Why, Why” demonstrates how extraordinarily gifted these musicians are.
This is a band to follow.
* Best track: “Through the Dirt.” This mostly instrumental track begins with a raw, primal percussion, then adds fluegelhorn, tenor and baritone saxophones, trumpet and vocalizations, all the while maintaining an improvised feel until it flows seamlessly into the urban call to action of “What Are You Waiting For?” Good question.
– DIANA NOLLEN, THE GAZETTE
Praise for Shine Your Face (2009)
“A thinking person’s party band, the five Toronto players make rhythmically sophisticated and socially conscious music, heavily influenced by the hybrid Nigerian/American Afrobeat styles of the late Fela Kuti. “When the news is bad I need you to remind me that the urge to create beauty can’t be contained,” front man Johan Hultqvist sings in the opening track, “The Antidote,” signalling an informed, optimistic, world view. The band’s second album The Edge drew a Juno nomination, but Shine Your Face marks the group’s most accomplished work yet.”
- John Goddard, The Toronto Star
“…superb release…. this infectious five-piece band grafts each sensational track together with smart pop hooks held in place by a gifted and extraordinary singer in Johan Hultqvist—adding accessibility to what is otherwise a high-torque melding of funk, jazz and Afrobeat (each of which is far too limiting in defining this crackerjack band).”
- Eric Thom, Penguin Eggs (Canada)
“Shine Your Face pares down the frantic locomotion of Afrobeat to stretch out the band’s jazz chops. And drummer Larry Graves swings like hell.”
- David Dacks, EYE WEEKLY, Toronto
“All eight songs on the new CD grab you from their opening Afrobeat pulses and reel you in with crisp, blistering horns and lyrics that tug at your sense of wanting to right so many wrongs. Even with lyrics that mirror the horrors of war, the ache in an old man’s heart and the need to affect change, the music is jubilant and celebratory.”
- Diana Nollen, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, IA
“Innovative and rhythmically sophisticated.”
- WRUV-FM, Burlington, VT
# The Antidote
# Only The Maker
# Make Your Mind
# Why Why Why
# City of Sand
# What Are You Waiting For?
# Make Your Mind Part II
Labels: Mr. Something Something
Dec 9, 2009
They are one of the best kept secrets of West Africa. While Bembeya Jazz, Konono N°1 or Orchestra Baobab have triumphed on European stages, it looked like this mythical Beninese band would go into retirement without ever playing outside Africa. Happily this is now set to change as Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou embarks on a debut European tour.
“If death took bribes, I would pay a fortune to save my mother and father” sang Poly-Rythmo’s Antoine Dougbé thirty years ago. This legendary Benin band which has played with Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango and Orquesta Aragon, has not managed to entirely cheat the grim reaper but their reputation is well and truly alive and kicking. Asking around at Cotonou’s nightclubs and bars, to the sound of Ivorian coupé décalé, I heard the same comment over and over again: “Poly-Rythmo? What an incredible band!”
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou was formed in 1969, anchoring their sound in the complex rhythms of the sacred Vodoun ceremonies of Benin, which have had far less exposure than the music of Cuban Santeria, Haitian Vodoun, or Brazilian Candomblé. They would put a Beninese spin on the hits of the day by Johnny Hallyday, Dalida or James Brown and created a repertoire which was as unique as it was explosive. "Drums, bells and horns are the fundamental instruments used during our traditional Vodoun rituals. We added guitars and organs - we modernised those ancients rhythms and combined them with Western genres that were in vogue at that time", explains Melome Clement, founder and bandleader. “We discovered JB’s funk on Voice of America” remembers Jean Luc Aplogan, the former Bénin Passion producer who now heads up the diversity commission at Radio France. “Poly-Rythmo were emblematic of that passion we had for funk and jerk, but their lyrics were all about life in Benin. They would sing about how to give bad luck the slip, about jealousy and love”.
Poly-Rythmo eventually became house-hold names in Benin and earned a huge reputation throughout West Africa, recording over 500 songs, including the massive hits ‘Gbeti Madjro’ and ‘Mille Fois Merci’. They first acquired electric instruments via their sponsor, local promoter, Crépin Wallace. “Once Wallace left to join his French wife in Paris, things started to get tougher. Our families put pressure on us to stop playing music”, says Clément. “Then with Pierre Loko (sax), Gustave Bentho (bass), Maximus Ajanohoun (guitar) and Eskill Lohento (singer) we became the resident band at the Canne à Sucre club. Cuicui André, the owner of the Poli Disco shop bought instruments for us. He wanted us to be called the Poly-Orchestra after his store. I chose Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo because we played every kind of rhythm and because we were electrified!” The band created an irresistible sound and frequently opened for Fela Kuti. “We supported Fela many times whenever he played in Cotonou, and we used to meet him at the EMI studio in Lagos where we did lots of recordings”, says Clément, “we loved his music”. Despite their popularity (even star saxophonist Tidjani Koné left the Rail Band of Bamako to join them) Poly-Rythmo had always struggled to make a living from their music or buy their own instruments. “Various producers have bought amps and guitars for us, but some of them had to be sold. Other equipment got damaged when we were on the road, especially during our Libyan tour. The authorities there warned us not to bring alcoholic drinks into the country, but they suspected us of hiding bottles inside our instruments and threw everything onto the ground when we arrived. That was a really tough moment for the band.”
Right up until the 1980s the band was still successful and touring in Niger, Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Angola and Côte d’Ivoire. But with political upheavals in Benin, increasing financial pressures, and the deaths of guitarist Bernard ‘Papillon’ Zoundegnon and vocalist Yehoussi Leopold, Poly-Rythmo seemed destined to ease gently into musical history. However, deep in the heart of Cotonou, a core of original band-members were still playing that transcendent mix of heavy funk and Benin psych. Meeting the band in Abomey in 2007, Mondomix contributor Elodie Maillot began to form plans to bring the live Orchestre Poly-Rythmo Vodoun-funk experience to new audiences. With the rising interest in vintage grooves fuelled by labels such as Soundway and Analog Africa the timing feels just right. So, forty years since their beginnings, the group is ready for their debut European tour. “To be honest, we’d had so many broken promises down the years that we didn’t believe this would happen!” says singer Vincent Ahehehinnou, one of the defining voices of the original line-up. “But now we’ve finally got our passports and visas in our hands I think this is going to be one of the best times in Poly-Rythmo’s history – a surprise renaissance!”
Background of the new album
Four years in the making, Analog Africa finally presents the second volume of Africa's funkiest band, the mythical Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou.
What had started as a children entertainment group became one of the greatest bands of their era. Volume One was a collection of amazing LO-Fi recordings produced for various labels around Benin. Volume Two showcases superbly recorded tracks, courtesy of the EMI studios in Lagos, one of the best studios in the region. All tracks here were recorded for the mighty Albarika Store label and its enigmatic producer, Adissa Seidou.
The idea for this compilation was born 5 years ago when Samy Ben Redjeb, founder and compiler of Analog Africa, received the addictive funk track Malin Kpon O released in 1975 on the Albarika Store Label. That discovery triggered the compilers curiosity and what followed was a long journey through the musical history of Benin and the history of its most important ambassador, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou.
The 4 year journey involved criss-crossing Benin, Togo and Niger trying to lay hands on the bands recording output which was found in record stocks and had laid untouched for a quarter of a century, reviewing reels and master tapes at the headquarters of Albarika Store, conducting interviews with all the living members of the band, searching for pictures of the Orchestra and licensing the music from the composers and producer. The result: approximately 100 pictures, 120 master tapes, 20 hours of interviews and a few hundred Orchestre Poly-Rythmo vinyl records - 500 songs in total - some of which were previously unreleased.
Almost half of those tunes were recorded for Benin's No.1 label - Albarika Store.
15 out of 200 tracks were carefully selected for this compilation which comes with a massive 44 page-booklet stuffed with amazing pictures of the band and its members, a complete discography and a biography tracing the history of the bands from its foundation as Groupe Meloclem in 1964 via Sunny Blacks band (1965), Orchestre Poly-Disco (1966), El Ritmo (1967) and finally Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou in 1968.
During the period presented here - 1969 to 1979 - the mighty Orchestra was without any doubt one of Africa's most innovative group. Capable of playing any style of music, the band moved from Traditional Vodoun Rhythms to Funk, Salsa or Afro-beat seamlessly and quickly became the powerhouse of Benin's music scene, backing most of Africa's stars touring the country such as Manu Dibango, Ernesto Djedje, Bella Bellow as well as supporting an array of local composers such as Honore Avolonto, Antoine Dougbé and Danialou Sagbohan.
Given the size of the tiny country one could think that Poly-Rythmo must have been too big a fish for such a small pond, but the more one understands Benin's culture and traditions the more it appears that a phenomenon such as Orchestre Poly-Rythmo couldn't have happened anywhere else. Some of the planets most exciting rhythms are related to the complex Vodoun Religion born in Benin. Those rhythms, supported by chants and dances, have been transmitted from generation to generation and are still being performed to this date - a few hundred years after they were created. The composers and arrangers of Orchestre Poly-Rythmo understood that they were surrounded by a gold mine of inspirational sounds which, if modernised and mixed in with whatever was in fashion at that particular moment, could have a strong impact on the urban population.
Those astonishing combinations can be heard here: Afro-Beat, Sato, Funk, Sakpata, Psychedelia and Latin sounds all mixed into a heavy hypnotic Sound - Les Echos Hypnotiques.
Thanx to analogafrica.blogspot.com!!!
Much like the Vodoun Effect before it, Echos Hypnotiques focuses largely on material from the group’s ‘70s prime. However, the recordings collected here are culled from the Orchestre’s more professionally recorded releases for Albarika Store. As such, it is marginally more “mainstream” in that it is smoother and less quirky than the secret lo-fi recordings from the first volume. Not by much though—all of the elements that made the Vodoun Effect so infectious are here as well (yet I definitely miss some of the more unhinged organ parts).
There are a couple of things that the Orchestre truly excel at and the main one is turning out some taut, rhythmically complex, and killer grooves. This is best executed by the infectiously propulsive cowbell beat of “Agnan Dekpe,” which also features some nicely arranged brass and understated organ riffing. The second element that sets OPR apart from their peers is their seamless and ravenous assimilation of disparate and wide-ranging influences. For example, “Malin Kpon O” combines clean highlife guitars, a straight funk rhythm section, and psych-tinged organ. Incidently, that song is the one that initially convinced Analog Africa's Samy Ben Redjeb to track down the rest of the band's oeuvre. “Minkou E So Non Moin," on the other hand, seems to borrow liberally from both disco and reggae. A Latin influence is also fairly pervasive at times (such as on “Zizi”), but the group’s primary reference point is almost always the traditional ritual percussion of their native Benin.
Or course, the Orchestre definitely have some conspicuous weaknesses too. The main one is that a lot of their material more closely resembles an extended vamp than a tightly structured song. This is a mixed blessing, as when they lock into an incredibly funky rhythm like that of “Houne Djein Nada,” I’m more than happy to let it continue uninterrupted. Unfortunately, when the groove is not so compelling, songs can seem very flabby and tedious. “Mede Ma Gnin Messe” is probably the worst offender, as it is relentlessly cheery and repetitive and drags on for an excruciating nine minutes. There also seems to be an inability to cut loose extraneous instrumentation at times, which results in a substantial amount of clutter, meandering solos, and distracting noodling.
That said, such shortcomings merely mean that Orchestre Poly-Rythmo is a “singles band.” There are a lot of great songs here, they just aren’t frequent enough to justify regularly playing the entire album straight through. At their best, the Orchestre’s rhythm section is as funky, vibrant, and exhilarating as nearly anybody. It's good to see them finally get their due.
Anyone who has been to a concert by Angelique Kidjo since her arrival on the international scene in the 1990s has heard of the West African nation of Benin, and possibly even her hometown, Cotonou. They have also heard the litany of her “influences,” either from her introductions to her own songs or from interviews. But in the European and American press, that litany tends to focus on names like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and Carlos Santana, leaving the impression that, before Kidjo, Benin had no music scene to speak of.
This second album in Analog Africa’s series on the band Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou — yes, Kidjo’s hometown — should put an end to that mistake. Simply put, Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo, while less known outside Africa than its contemporaries of the 1960s and 1970s, was every bit as talented and inventive. Echos Hypnotiques collects 15 cuts from the Cotonou label Albarika Store to showcase a heady mix of funk, afrobeat, sato, and soul.
The very first cut, “Se ba ho,” grabs the listener’s attention, starting with traditional handclaps and hand drums, adding organ, bass, and guitar within ten seconds, and by 30 seconds, drumkit, percussion, and horns to create a loping 12/8 background to shouted lyrics in call-and-response format. “Mi ve wa se,” using the same instrumentation as the first cut, is built on traditional drum ensemble rhythms, giving an unusual eight-beat structure with a hiccup – a silence between the fifth and sixth beats. Out of this beat rise guitar and organ solos that would not be out of place in a piece by the Rail Band or Bembeya Jazz. “Azoo de ma gnin kpevi” is half Afrobeat, half funk, and half rumba, with cowbell sounding the clave, horns and organs handling the chorus, bass working with the rhythm guitar and percussion to drive everything forward.
Many of the cuts on Echos Hypnotiques are like this, a seamless mix of African and Afro-American. Not all of the songs on this disc mix and match, however; “Malin kpon o” is pure Motown, “Mede ma gnin messe”and “Agnon dekpe” are all Afrobeat, while “Zizi” is Congolese rumba. But regardless of whether it’s a “pure” song or a mix, the traditional polyrhythms of Benin are never far behind, and several cuts make that tradition the core of the song. “Koutome,” for example, is built entirely on the interlocking drum patterns, which structure the bass and rhythm guitar and provide the melody for the vocals. Only the instrumentation (and the guitar solo halfway through) tips off the listener that the edges of tradition are being pushed.
This is exciting music performed by accomplished musicians, a marriage of complex rhythms, funky guitar solos, and hot horn breaks that could only have come from the homeland of Vodoun.
Echos Hypnotiques starts with tick-clap tick-clap, and the spaces between those ticks and claps are the last bits of loose, uninhabited air we hear until the end of the album 78 minutes later. Brass comes in and everything is speed, density, singing, singing, and churning, churning, ideas from Afro-America, ideas from Afro-Africa, afrobeat, vodoun, percussive sato, venerable sakpata, ideas from the French mid-century rocker Johnny Hallyday, ideas from, I swear, psychedelic Britain: the keyboard lushly bleeds and drools, and the lead singer urges it forward like a shepherd pushing his sly and dawdling lambs with a crook made up of ejaculated syllables that sound sometimes like this: “Tcha! Tcha!” He’s singing in—well, I’d have to look it up. Fon? Fon. The press kit promises that, in the commercial release, things like languages will be explained in a:
44 page booklet filled with … pictures of the band, a complete discography, and a biography tracing the band from its foundation as Groupe Meloclem in 1964 via Sunny Black’s band , Orchestre Poly-Rythmo , El Ritmo  and finally, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou in 1968.
I don’t have that booklet, but judging from the standard of Samy ben Redjeb’s past booklets, I’m going to assume that it will be as good as it sounds. Caveat emptor, I don’t know for sure. But anyone willing to trace the tangled web of those African bands that form, re-form, argue, split in half, borrow new members from somebody else, find a fresh patron, re-name themselves—etc etc—is showing some kind of exemplary dedication. The first two times I reviewed Analog Africa’s releases, I pointed out that the label didn’t have a website and I don’t think I’ve ever corrected that, so here, now, is the address: analogafrica.blogspot.com.
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou comes from Benin. That “de Cotonou” in the name gives away its hometown, Cotonou, the country’s largest and most financially bustling city, sitting on the coastline in the south. The Orchestre was introduced to mainstream modern western listeners in 2004 when the British label Soundway released a Poly-Rythmo retrospective. Four years later, Analog Africa released a different one. That album covered the years 1972-1975, and the music was drawn from the vaults of various labels. This new, third album runs from 1969 to 1979 and takes its tracks from a single label, Albarika. Why Albarika alone? Because Albarika released only slightly less than half the Poly-Rythmo tracks that the compiler ben Redjeb found when he started digging. There were 200 Albarika tracks to choose from, announces the press kit. 500 songs in all. And then I check the track lists of the three retrospectives to make sure there isn’t any overlap, and when I see there isn’t, I feel silly for even having looked. With hundreds of tracks to choose from, why would you need to repeat them?
Earlier this year, Analog Africa released Legends of Benin, a compilation of different bands. Where that album was wide, this album is deep. Legends of Benin‘s El Rego imitates James Brown, but the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo assimilates him, and others too, making everything cohere in a style that is theirs: Poly-Rythmo style, played with the flair of a band that took each new idea as a challenge and an opportunity, rather than a reason to feel overwhelmed. The relentlessness of this music is exhilarating, the thickness of it, the groove, the band’s refusal to let the listener slow down. Everything is sweet, deep, rich. None of the other 1970s Benin bands on Legends are quite this distinctive.
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.
01. Se Ba Ho
02. Mi Ve Wa Se
03. Azon De Ma Gnin Kpevi
04. Noude Ma Gnin Tche De Me
05. Ahouli Vou Yelli
06. Gan Tche Kpo
07. Malin Kpon O
08. Mede Ma Gnin Messe
09. Agnon Dekpe
11. Ma Dou Sou Nou Mio
13. Houe Djein Nada
14. Minkou E So Non Moin
Labels: Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou
Femi Kuti Live!
A conversation about his family’s musical and political legacy, and his thoughts on the radical future ahead for the Obama generation.
t’s hard to imagine the pressure Femi Kuti must feel, taking the stage as the son of one of the world’s most legendary performers, charged with carrying forward the Afrobeat music his father, Fela Kuti, created decades ago. “It’s true,” Femi offers. “I do stand in big shoes—because my feet are bigger than his. Ha! I am about an inch taller.” So much for that.
Femi long ago found his own voice, but it’s one that’s no less provocative and defiant than his father’s. The family’s confrontation with Nigerian political corruption and authoritarian rule throughout Africa stretches back generations. Until AIDS slowed Fela, and ultimately killed him in 1997, his music defined black political resistance on the continent. Since then, Femi has kept that spirit alive, first with a couple of commercially successful albums at the turn of the century, then with relentless live performances at his family’s renowned Lagos club, The Shrine.
As Femi launched his North American tour this week—promoting his first studio album since 2001, Day by Day—he sat down with The Root to talk about his family’s musical and political legacy, and the radical future he believes the Obama generation heralds. Ominously, just days before the tour began, Lagos authorities raided and shut down The Shrine. After a global outcry, the club quickly reopened, but the standoff offered a stark reminder of the charged relationship Afrobeat and its founders have always had with Africa’s ruling class.
Let’s start with The Shrine. Tell us what it is.
The Shrine for us is like the mosque or the church. It was like that for my father, and what we have tried to do is put it like he would want. The Shrine is a cultural, social place, and it was built in honor of my father. So if the government cannot close the mosque or the church, it should not think about closing The Shrine. It is a spiritual home for our ancestors, where we do our own style of worship by playing truthful music.
And what is the problem, in your mind, that the authorities have with it?
I think because lately I’ve been very outspoken, very critical of the state government. … They gave the excuse of the street traders—that we are the cause of the people who come and sell [drugs] on the streets, and that we are supposed to get rid of those people. Now, we work with the drug law enforcement agencies because there’s a lot of drugs on the street. It has nothing to do with me. The drug people know I am not involved in it. We work with about three police stations who come and police the place every night for us. So when the state government descends upon us for this reason, we can’t understand.
So in your mind, this is all just smoke screen for harassment.
Yes, harassment because the place is getting popular again. In 2007 in December, the police came and arrested about 450 people that were inside and just started flogging them in the streets. They beat the living daylights out of them, took them to the station and said they were looking for armed robbers. … So everybody was scared to come to The Shrine because the police kept patrolling. It took us months to get people to come back in.
You and your family have long had a difficult relationship with authorities in Nigeria.
We will always have this difficulty, as long as the governments are corrupt. As long as the governments don’t provide a good education, electricity, good roads, water—all the simple amenities for the people that we know exist. We will always have that problem.
Describe Afrobeat for the young people who have never heard it.
Afrobeat is a mixture of music that my father played—especially jazz, [West African] highlife, traditional African music and the gospel kind of music that his father was signing. My father was the pianist of his secondary school, and he used to sing all of my grandfather’s hymns, that my grandfather composed. So all of that was already in him. He knew all the songs of my great-grandfather and grandfather. So he had all of this before he went to college. He heard Miles Davis, came back to Nigeria, and it was highlife. And then there was traditional music. Out of all this he found Afrobeat.
Is it necessarily political?
It did not start political. But when my father came to America, he met the Black Panthers. He read books of Malcolm X. This was when America was revolting against [the legacy of] slavery, and black people were getting angry, and he met all of these people. And when he got back to Nigeria, he thought he was bringing something positive for the Nigerian government at that time. “Hey, look what’s going on! The black people are revolting in America. We here in Africa, we can make this a great continent.” He had all of these ideas, and he went to the minister of culture, who just looked at him and said, “You are talking rubbish.” That got him angry, and he started to be involved in political music.
But for you, is it necessarily political?
Yes, because it is now a heritage. It is life. It is what we witness every day. We still have no lights; we have no electricity; many people do not have water. Many people cannot afford a square meal for their families because the poverty is so bad. If you are not the friend of the government, you cannot have a good life. Now that is not the way it should be.
So these facts inform your music?
If I am concerned about my son, yes. Because what kind of life will he have? And his children? Now, if I wasn’t enlightened by my father, I would be quite a stupid African. Ha! If he wasn’t enlightened, and people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and Kwame Nkrumah did not sacrifice their lives for Africa, my father would not have understood the fight of the slave trade. People cannot understand what 500 years of slavery meant. And even today we ignore that fact because education does not make us understand the gravity of what happened. We are not talking about six years. We are not talking about 20 years. We are talking about nothing less than six generations of slavery. … We find excuses that we mustn’t think about it. Because of a desire to be part of the material world, because we are scared, we are ready to say, “To hell with our ancestors,” and just live in this age that means nothing. So what is the base of our existence?
When you talk about the base of existence, it makes me think of how in Day by Day you talk about Christianity and religion and it’s role in Nigeria and Africa. What is your message there?
In Day by Day, I’m just saying the average person works very hard, 9 to 5 every day, hoping and praying for peace. With all the corruption, with all the problems he or she faces—trying to feed her family, her mother, her father, the kids—the average person who has nothing still strives through all of these difficult times, every day working and praying. Working hard to survive. So I give examples of the extent of the poverty in Lagos. Where people still wake up every day, just praying, praying, praying for peace.
But you also have some very critical things to say about Christianity in it.
Yes. Because we know what Christianity is. We know what Christianity did to Africa, what Islam did to Africa. We had our own religion. … When the Christians came and shot us and gave us the Bible, and took our resources and took our people, all in the name of Christianity, is that what the creator wanted? When the Muslims came from the North and said you are pagans and Christians and cut off our necks, that is not positive religion. Religion has to peaceful.
I want to talk about family because you are so associated with it and Fela’s legacy. You are bringing your son on tour with you, correct?
He has to go to school now, so he hasn’t been on tour for about three years now. He’s very angry, but he has to go to school! I don’t want him to fall into the victimization of them calling him a dropout, like me. I don’t want his peers to think they are better than him because they went to university, and he didn’t get the chance to go because he was playing music. … You can get lost in music. It’s a world of its own. When you go into the art form, it consumes you.
I ask because you are seen as the steward for what your father created, and I’m wondering if you are passing that on to your son. Or if you consider any of that to be real?
Yes, definitely. I know it is in him. He’s a great percussionist, and he catches everything so fast. If he does play music, his greatness will not surprise me. … I would love him to play music, but I want to be very objective. If he chooses a different direction, I will be happy for him. If he has a happy family, and his children are happy, I will be delighted for him. I want him to be happy at the end of the day. If he plays music, I will not be one bit surprised. And if he ends up fighting with his music, it will not surprise me one bit!
Indeed, your family has been wrestling with Nigeria’s future for generations. Where does that future stand?
It is difficult, but we will get by. I still am very optimistic. It’s not just Africa now. It’s the whole world. Look at the recession. Ah! It’s very bad. If you didn’t have a job, you would be worried stiff right now. In Europe and America, no jobs. Ha! Now, Europe and America are feeling what the ordinary man in Africa has been feeling for years. What I have been feeling. People ask me, “Ah, has the music industry collapsed?” I say I never sold 20 million albums, so I have no idea what it means to be a rich artist. I’ve always struggled, making sure my live gigs are good, so I can come back and play. I’ve never relied on the album.
Playing live is just more fun and more interesting?
Yes, because it’s your life. The album is more a statement of, what did he do in his lifetime? You can refer back to it. You can rely on it for history’s purposes. … But this is life now. What is happening today! … [At the North American tour’s New York City opener], I will make sure it is going to be one of the great sessions I will play, because I will give everything, on that night. …
As I was explaining, people ask me about the record industry collapsing. I believe in 50 years time, it won’t be about commercialism any more. It will be about being real. Not just finding a gimmick—singing “Hey baby, baby, baby.” People will say, “What is he saying? What is this motherf***** saying?! He must be such an unintelligent fool.” People will want to listen to Miles Davis again. John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Dizzy Gillespie, “Things to Come.” Fela Anikulapo Kuti! People will want to listen to real music because people will have understood life. So the world has to pass through this stage to let us understand that commercialism and materialism is not real, it has been fake all this time.
Fela was often called the “black president.” What are your thoughts on our new black president?
I like him. I think he’s real. I think he’s the best thing that has happened to America in a long time. ... If Obama can get elected, with so many votes coming from young people, there’s a new vibrant force coming out of America that the racists and the not-real people have to be very afraid of. That generation has come of age, and they are going to change so many things. They are the ones that don’t see why they should buy anybody’s album. They just download. F*** everybody! Ha! This is a very powerful generation, and that makes me very happy.
So can Obama help Nigeria and Africa, too?
He has already helped. Don’t you see? He has already helped. But I won’t say “he,” because it is not him. It is everybody who took part in the election. The change has come, whether we like it or not.
Interview published by Kai Wright in The Root (Source)
A Prince of Afrobeat, Still Shouldering the Load of a Family Legacy
Femi Kuti’s band, Positive Force, danced its way onstage at the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza on Thursday night. Guitarists swayed in unison, horn players strutted, female backup singers shimmied and bumped, and they all moved to Mr. Kuti’s directions — left, right, down to the ground — after he made his entrance. The women kept shaking and swiveling their hips virtually nonstop through the set, to a beat that merges rhythms from Mr. Kuti’s home, Nigeria, with funk, swing and reggae. As they danced, they sang choruses like “Stop AIDS, fight AIDS.” For Mr. Kuti, in a family tradition, dance music carries messages.
The rhythm is Afrobeat, which was forged by Mr. Kuti’s father, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, from the 1970s until his death in 1997 (of complications from AIDS). It is virtually inseparable from protest and a social conscience. In “You Better Ask Yourself,” from Femi Kuti’s most recent album, “Day by Day” (Mercer Street), the lyrics wonder why Africa, with all its natural resources, still has the “majority of the poorest people.” Often, the songs rail against a problem that both Fela and Femi Kuti have condemned: government corruption.
On May 28, as Femi Kuti was preparing for the United States tour that started with Thursday’s concert, the state government announced a permanent shutdown of the club he and a sister built in Lagos, the New Afrika Shrine, citing “noise nuisance, illegal street trading, indiscriminate parking, blocking of access roads and obstruction of traffic.” (It is named after the Shrine, his father’s club from the ’70s and a center of defiance until it was shut down by the government after Fela’s death.) This permanent closing didn’t last; the New Afrika Shrine was allowed to reopen on Tuesday. Onstage, Mr. Kuti spoke about the closing and the reopening, saying that the Nigerian government was not strong enough to send him to prison, as it had his father, or it would have already done so. Then he called for a united Africa.
Mr. Kuti’s Afrobeat moves in ways established by his father. Behind Mr. Kuti’s vocals, it can simmer along, with accents flickering on high-hat cymbal and snare drum amid rippling keyboards and guitar. It can ease back, turning into a subdued midtempo pulse, for guitar and horn solos that approach jazz. And it can switch into brawny funk when the horn section kicks in with choppy, insistent lines anchored by baritone saxophone. Femi Kuti adds variations of his own: passages of vocal counterpoint, undercurrents of a hip-hop beat and, especially on the new album, hints of Caribbean rhythms.
The set was more party than protest. As a bandleader — who sings and plays trumpet, alto saxophone or electric organ in various songs — Mr. Kuti is a master of dynamics. Each song shifted repeatedly between smooth and punchy, triggering a new burst of dancing with every change. But there was no mistaking Mr. Kuti’s didactic mission. Even when he turned to the subject of sex in the set’s finale, “Beng Beng Beng,” he proffered advice and instructions — about not rushing things — as the Afrobeat groove pulsated and surged behind him.
Source: Published by New York Times June 5 2009, Article By JON PARELES
Nigeria Closes New Afrika Music Shrine That Speaks Out Against Corruption
What would you do if two nights before you planned to leave the country for several months to travel across North America and Europe, the government showed up at your front door and said you and everyone else who lives in your building has 24 hours to vacate the premises? What if your home was also your place of business in addition to a community center and shelter for dozens of downtrodden members of your community?
That was the dilemma facing Femi Anikulapo Kuti two weeks ago. Just nights before he was set to embark on an international tour across North America and Europe, the Nigerian government decreed The New Afrika Shrine, Femi's home base nightclub in Lagos, Nigeria, was to be closed permanently. The Shrine, however, is more than simply a music venue -- it is a sanctuary for the homeless and dispossessed, a community center meeting place and the headquarters for the Kutis' movement to better the lives of ordinary Nigerians by speaking out against corruption, encouraging empowerment, and distributing anti-aids literature and contraception.
The original Afrika Shrine was built in the seventies by Femi's father, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Femi started playing with his father's band, Egypt 80, at the age of 16. It was at the original Afrika Shrine that Femi started performing with his own band, Positive Force, on Sunday nights. Femi started developing his own sound, going in his own direction, and since then has released nine albums and toured the world several times.
Femi Kuti and Positive Force are one of the most powerfully revolutionary musical acts left on the planet. From the music itself -- wailing horns and voices sailing over the multi-layered percussive elements accentuated by scratchy guitars and winding bass lines, all facilitated by an army of musicians and dancers that overtake any stage they touch, to their powerful message of African unity, accountability in government, and peace -- very few acts on the planet can compete.
So in a way, it's understandable why the Nigerian government wants the Shrine's doors permanently closed. According to Femi, it's due to the crowds that block the roads connecting to the club, "They said people were selling things outside, like sweets, and fried meats, biscuits, things like this on the streets, not in the shrine, on the streets, on the major road. So they are closing the shrine because we let people come and sell things there. How do they expect us to get rid of these people? Do we own the road? The road belongs to the federal government. How we can we go to the federal governments' property and 'say get out of here?' It's the government's problem to do that. They have to remove them not us."
The Nigerian government does have a history when it comes to harassing the Kuti family. Femi's father was arrested over 200 times in his life, and his dwelling place was attacked more than once by the Nigerian army. Femi is very different from his father in a lot of ways, but unfortunately, he cannot escape his family name and the pedigree with which it comes.
Femi asserts that the CIA was behind the most famous attack on his father's compound, a raid in which his house was set on fire, his family raped and beaten, and his mother thrown out of a second story window. "An american, I don't want to name names here, came to warn my father before the attack and warned him the CIA wanted him dead. He said it many times. He was warned that the CIA was going to kill him. I was there, I heard him say it many times. Any western government is always opposed to any Pan-African in government."
Like his father, Femi has always stood for the empowerment of Africans and against corruption. Femi was proud to see Barack Obama elected president but does not want him to give African governments any kind of pass because of his African roots, "I hope he won't be lenient in dealing with the corruption of African governments because he's a black man. I hope he doesn't fall for that. He has to be very objective, because all the African governments are corrupt. I think that is where he should be hard because he should want Africa to become a great continent. He has to be very hard on his policies, because he has to put an end to the corruption with his policies in Africa. He has to prove that the African government is not being proper democracy according to what we know it should be."
Femi Kuti and Positive Force are currently touring across North America. There is a petition to the Governor of Lagos and Nigeria's Minister of Justice circulating online for the re-opening of the Shrine. Please go to this website and add your name to the list because in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Source: Published by Huffington Post June 12 2009, Article By Marc Gabriel Amigone
Dec 3, 2009
Afrobeat music has become a global phenomenon with musicians from different racial and ethnic background buying into the uniqueness of the sound as well as the language which features predominately within the music. The language is pidgin English – a form of broken English that is spoken predominately in Anglophone West Africa. Although Afrobeat music is associated with Fela (who began the genre), the music, with its varied instrumentation, will not have had its uniqueness and appeal without those who played behind him. One of such people was Kaleta who was a former member of several top notch musical bands in Africa; the list run from King Sunny Ade, Fela, and Fela’s son, Femi Kuti to other big bands in the region.
Kaleta is the lead singer in Akoya – one of the predominant Afrobeat groups in New York. I got a chance to speak to him about life with his days at Fela’s defunct Kalakuta Republic, his music, politics and women.
What attracted you to Fela’s kind of music?
It was the uniqueness of his style of music: it was one that I had never heard before.
How did you start working with Fela?
I knew that Fela needed a guitarist because he had lost a lot of his musicians during a tour. I wanted to play for Fela and as such I went to the Kalakuta republic to meet him for an interview. I was kept waiting but then was finally allowed in to see him in the evening. During the interview, he asked me for my experience – I then mentioned that I played for King Sunny Ade (this was problematic because Fela and Sunny Ade did not like each other) based on that and my religious preferences, I wasn’t supposed to get the position. Fela decided that he wanted to test me. He gave me a rusty guitar to play. I played it very well and he was impressed, he then asked me to join his band and I did.
You cannot talk about Fela, without mentioning his lifestyle – What did you think about that life style?
I respect Fela because of the brand of music he played but I disagreed with the lifestyle – I was what could be called a church boy.
We all know that Fela’s lifestyle was synonymous with the women that he kept around him and that at one time he was married to about forty of them. Did band members have sexual access to these women or were they only for Fela’s use?
Well, they were there for Fela, he had the first go at them but a couple of band members were having relationships with these women. They were called Fela’s queens. Everyone knew that some of these women were sleeping around.
Apart from sexual relations with Fela – what other functions did the queens have in the Kalakuta Republic?
They prepared food for Fela, they served food to him, they also were traders. They traded to those that were within the republic as well as those who came to the shrine and that was how money was generated to fund the republic.
Who were these queens? What were their family backgrounds?
Many of them were girls who had run away from their family. The Kalakuta republic was a place where anyone could come in and reside. A lot of these girls were constantly harassed by the police.
Were there any rules in the Kalakuta republic? What were these rules?
Yes, there were several rules. Some of these rules were that you could not touch any woman during confrontation. No hard drugs were allowed in the Kalakuta republic.
Hmm, research has shown that Marijuana use is often times a pathway to other heavier drugs like cocaine and heroine, so what was the reasoning behind allowing the sale of hemp and refusing other drugs.
Fela believed that Marijuana was from nature and anything from nature is there for human beings use and consumptions. These hard drugs are artificially created – I think that might have been the main reason that he detested them. If anyone was caught using them, they were instantly punished, they were thrown into a cell, till the drug was waned out of their system.
Some of the documentaries that have been done on Fela have tied his cynicism of the Nigerian government to what happened during the Biafran war. Did the Biafran war affect you or open your eyes to Nigerian politics?
At first I wasn’t consciously aware of the war that was taking place. I was in the Republic of Benin when the war began and I remember Ibo refugees coming into Benin to stay. A lot of Beninese families took them in and took care of them. Eventually, a couple of them ended up settling in Cotonu which is the main business centre in Benin. I became more aware of the war when I moved to Lagos in Nigeria, Lagos wasn’t really affected by the war, everyone was going about their business as if nothing was happening in other areas of the country but Peter Obe did a book on the war, in which he showed starving children, people being shot at and killed in the war and then that was when it dawned on me. War is a terrible thing.
What informed your own political consciousness?
After listening to what Fela was talking about, it led to some discontent about the political situation in the country. We could all relate to what he was singing. It led to a mental coup d’etat.
I know that you are currently working with Zozo Afrobeat. What makes it so different from the other Afrobeat projects that you are involved with?
I use pidgin English which is the language of Afrobeat. That is the language of the common man. I use a lot of Beninese instruments like some of the drums used are from Benin. The music is still political. Zozo Afrobeat is a marriage of both cultures (Nigerian and Benin).
Why do you think that Afrobeat has such a strong pull on people regardless of where they come from originally? Afrobeat is huge in Japan and Sweden right now – why is that?
I think everything comes down to the uniqueness of the message, the jazz elements in it, the political aspects of the music as well as the man himself. Fela was a legend. You forgot to mention that it has a huge fan base in Israel as well.
“Zozo,” taken from the Goun and Fon word for “something hot,” truly keeps the Afrobeat fires burning. A 13-piece ensemble from New York City, Zozo Afrobeat features musicians from around the world and is led by African music luminary Kaleta. Born in the Republic of Benin and raised in Nigeria, Kaleta grew up recording and performing with legendary Nigerian musicians Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti and King Sunny Ade, shina Peters. After moving to the U.S., Kaleta toured with akoya afrobeat and most recently with Lauryn Hill.
With Zozo Afrobeat, Kaleta’s music pays homage to the greats, and yet has its own distinctive sound and energy. Like Fela Kuti, who used his music to challenge a corrupt Nigerian government, Kaleta has written songs that are socially and politically provocative. At the same time, his lyrics reflect a keen sense of humor and a message of hope. He also co- arranged/produced New york based Akoya Afrobeat ensemble written all the bands' songs.On Zozo Afrobeat’s 2008 release, “Country of Guns,” Kaleta scatters pop culture references and marvels of a country with “250 million people and 250 billion guns.” On other songs, Kaleta sings in Yoruba, Goun, Fon, and French. He is currently working on 2 cds with 16 songs FELABRATION & AFROBEATOLOGY to be released in 2009 in conjuction with his book on his former master Fela Kuti.
On stage, Kaleta displays remarkable energy – singing, dancing, and playing guitar and percussions. The band responds accordingly, delivering cascades of horns, hypnotic Benino-Nigerian rhythms, and captivating solos.
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01. Country Of Guns 7:28
02. Shake Your Nyansh 11:12
03. Gete (Dancing Limbs) 4:17
04. Baba Nla Iya 12:11
05. Get Up 10:15
06. Fimile (Live and Let Live) 11:54
07. Peace No Dey (No Peace) 10:37
Labels: Kaleta And Zozo Afrobeat