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Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo

Cotonou Club

All powerful eh ?  This is the first studio recording by the legendary band from Benin and everything is here – plentiful and steady drums and percussion, blaring horns, James Brown influenced rhythms, deep bass runs, impassioned singing and those spirited dancing and at the forefront interweaving guitar jangles. Opener ‘Ne Te Fache Pas’ has neat reverbed guitar solo rolling over the horns like a surfer on a wave. ‘Pardon’ commences with a guitar and keys pattern of almost conspiratorial quality worthy of Funkadelic/ Bernie Worrell.  It’s easy to see how this type of music influenced the likes of Talking Heads. It could fit on any mixtape alongside anything by David Byrne or Kid Creole.

‘Von Vo Nomo’ has a voodoo atmosphere and declamatory vocal with synth overlays, this is proud music but with a rhythmic subtlety that gives the tight horn figures all the more impact.  Find me crisper sound than the Salsa-soaked and wah-guitared ‘Koumi Dede’ and what a great lead vocal, joyous and forceful. A  tropical treat. Story goes that the band were annoyed at only being heard outside their territory on their ancient records and were anxious to issue more recordings sounding as they do now, hence the session in Paris to cut these selections.

Angelique Kidjo the regal African vocal queen guests on ‘Gbeti Madjro’ and her rich voice sounds ace in this setting, a jagged guitar-driven pacer. Try keeping your toes still while this is playing ! ‘Tegbe’ sounds like a film-opener, delicious horn passages and swaying beat ; reflective track ‘Ma Vie’ has sprinkles of electric guitar that make it sparkle like a sun-splashed lake as a hesitant rhythm edges in.

Finally, two of Franz Ferdinand guest on ‘Lion is Burning’ which starts with edgy synth figures and a jungle-bound rhythm a la ‘Remain In Light’. Sounds like a natural set-closer. Slide guitar by Karsten Hopchapfel (caught my ear and I looked it up).

A pat on the back to Sparkle Studio for capturing a big multi-layered sound so well. Must be one of the best recent African band releases and as colourful as you could wish for

Pete Sargeant

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