Sound Culture Presents: Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou
“Proving incontrovertibly that 20 years has done nothing to diminish Orchestre Poly-Rythmo’s capacity for fiery funk…” – National Geographic Music
“…stuttering horns, wah-wah keyboards, quick-scrubbed rhythm guitar, group vocals and a very busy cowbell, and the polyrhythms ignite.” – The New York Times
Poly-Rhythmo are probably the oldest of the post-independence bands in west Africa still active – but only just. The group was founded in Benin by Mélomé in 1968 and became hugely popular in the 1970s. They performed a varied repertoire of Afrobeat, songs based on the vodoun (voodoo) rituals in Benin, Latin music and James Brown-influenced funk. Their success wasn’t limited to Benin – the group toured and enjoyed hit records in neighbouring Nigeria, Ghana and French West Africa, while they played alongside some of the continent’s greatest stars, including Miriam Makeba, Angelique Kidjo and Fela Kuti. But in the early 1980s, under the Marxist dictatorship of Mathieu Kérékou, Benin entered a period of economic hardship and decline. The band survived, but with precious few engagements, many, even in Benin, thought Poly-Rythmo were history.
In Europe, meanwhile, there was a growing interest in the music of west Africa, and some of Poly-Rythmo’s old recordings were released on CD for the first time. Miles Cleret’s Soundway Records released The Kings of Benin Urban Groove, and Frankfurt-based label Analog Africa released The Vodoun Effect and Echoes Hypnotiques. With chunky booklets, old photos and record sleeves – and some of the funkiest music of the 1970s – these have become collectors’ items. (Simon Broughton, The Guardian)
How do they sound live today? “…angular melodies, punchy horn lines, psychedelic guitar, an injection of funk and insistent, powerful percussion – beaten out on drums, gourds, bells and shakers. It’s music you can’t ignore.” – Simon Broughton, The Guardian