Gangbe Brass Band promotes the originality of the music of Benin combining an original mixture of jazz and Beninese traditional music: voodoo rhythms (Sato, Zinti, Ogbon) and songs in local languages (Yoruba, Fon Goun).
The Gangbe Brass Band was created in 1994 when 8 musicians, all from Cotonou-Benin, came together. These young jazz musicians had been playing in different groups, before creating this unusual fusion of traditional styles.
Gangbe Brass Band’s aim is to promote the originality of the music of Benin. The result is definitely both modern and traditional, as it mixes jazz and traditional Benin.
They take traditional rhythms, and invigorate them with jazz harmonies. The fusion reveals as much as possible of the musical tradition, while giving a western tone, to link the past and future. They sing in vernacular language about life in general, political injustices and the tribulations of women.
Through the word Togbe, the band salutes the music on which they build their sound. The first meaning of the word is ‘ancestor’, the band’s way of paying homage to the range and quality of the rhythms they created. The second is a reference to age, highlighting the ancient roots of the music they play.
The Gangbe Brass Band’s musical approach is respectful of tradition, and in harmony with their ancestors and culture.
From 1994 to 1997, the Gangbe Brass Band worked mainly in Benin. A year later, in 1998, their association called ‘The Union of Wind Instrumentalist of Benin’ took part in the Atelier Nomade of Alougbine Dine, a very famous artistic director. They composed a piece called La Fuite.
This meeting was very important as it enabled them to draw up artistic and political guidelines, and think about the values they really wanted to defend, things they want to talk about and the projects they could put in place. During this year, they played many concerts such as the Jazz Ouaga festival, and again at Bamako’s Festival du Theatre des Realites where they met the French group Lo’Jo.
Thanks to Lo’Jo and to Yves De La Croix, they recorded their first album called Gangbe and began an international tour of 35 concerts with them in 1999, playing in Europe and Canada, and another tour in Nigeria. They received an award at Benin Golden Awards, and took part in the first Nomad’s meeting, in Cotonou, and the Pan African of Jazz in Accra (Ghana).
In 2000, still supported by Lo’Jo Triban, they played on international stages, such as the Womad Festival in London, Jazz in St Louis (Senegal) and Lille 2000.
At the same time, they developed cultural projects for increasing awareness about Beninese culture, their main concern.
The first one Voodoo’s rhythms box received the support of the Benin Ministry of Culture. It consists of a collection of all Beninese ceremonial rhythms for a CD, and later a CD ROM, to be distributed in European art schools, and cultural institutions. The second one, called Horizon 2001 concerns regional, continental and worldwide cultural exchanges. It’s a European-African network for the organization of concerts between the Gangbe Brass Band and other guest artists.
The Gangbe Brass Band began working with Contre Jour in Brussels in 2001, recording their second album called Togbe. During the Summer, they promoted it through a new tour of 45 concerts, including high-profile festivals such as Musiques du Sud in Lebanon, Couleur Cafe in Brussels, Sfinks in Antwerp, Pop Komm in Koln, and Musiques Metisses in Angouleme (France).
In 2002, they were on the road in Europe during the Spring and the Summer and in USA in the Fall for some festivals (Bloomington, Chicago, New York).
In 2003, during their European tour, they recorded a new album (released in June 2004). During this year, they were touring in Europe and participated in a project with French Jazz Musicians for a Tribute to Don Cherry (presented at the Festival in the Desert in Essakane)
In 2004, the band released a new album, Whendo, and toured Europe. Assiko! followed in 2008.
The band released Go Slow to Lagos in 2015.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.