Orchestre Poly-Rythmo’s latest album Cotonou Club, the finishing touch to the group’s renaissance, has been released twenty months after the group’s first concerts outside Africa saw them emerge from obscurity and near dormancy. Cotonou Club is characterised by the stimulating Afro-funk beats that built the Benin group’s reputation.
Explosive brass sounds are a reminder that Nigeria’s Fela has been an influence; guitars are in the Ghanian tradition (their Congolese nieces perhaps?), and the spirit is altogether funky: Cotonou Club takes off at a cracking speed with the appropriately entitled Ne te fâche pas – as energizing as a large, cold glass of fizzy Coca-Cola.
t’s hard to believe that the engine of this high-speed Poly-Rythmo train was first fired up in 1968, and that its early mechanics were part of the "troisième âge". The renewed interest that has been shown in the group over the last few years has certainly injected them with new blood, and between their two concerts in France they are eager to go into a recording studio.
As the group’s name suggests they know how to play just about everything, and in their lastest album they experiment with the Afro-funk genre, the converging point for an array of influences. At times, as in Koumi Dede, there is a strong Latin touch. Their take on Von Vo Nono pays hommage to its original performer, Gnonnas Pedro, one of Benin’s most famous artists, renown for his love of Afro-Cuban music, and who at the end of his career was one of the members of Africando.
In Gbeti Madjro, a title which has travelled to neighbouring countries where the memory of Poly-Rythmo is very much alive, it’s as if James Brown has delivered a jolt of electric current at the speed of the sprinter, Usain Bolt. The album features a photo of their compatriot, Angélique Kidjo, at the microphone, emphasizing that her presence is not at all contrived.
A limited edition of Cotonou Club extends the listener’s pleasure with a CD that brings together live versions, videos and interviews. It’s a way of getting to know this charming group even more and repairing the injustice that they were subject to when they were isolated from the international scene for so long.
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo Cotonou Club (Sons d’Ailleurs/Universal) 2011.
In concert at the Casino de Paris on 20th April and at Printemps de Bourges on 24th April.