Afrobeat musician Honoré Avolonto started his career in 1969 as a percussionist. The young conga player went onto become one of Benin’s most prolific composer.
Avolonto composed Benin’s most successful LP (no title – SAT 143) which was recorded for the Satel music label in the late 70s. The album was recorded with the Black Santiago, a band fronted by amazing trumpet player Ignace De Souza, another legend, with whom he recorded the Afrobeat track “Dou Dagbe We” few years earlier. Avolonto has fronted some of Benin’s most powerful bands.
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo not only composed and recorded hundreds of songs but they still found time to arrange and record for other artists, one of them being “Le premier ministre du Diable” – Antoine Dougbé.
Dougbé created his own style which he dubbed Afro Cavacha, a fantastic mixture of Congolese Rumba, Latin sounds and traditional frenetic Vodun rhythms. Original Antoine Dougbé vinyl records that were released on his own label, Editions Dougbé Antoine, have become some of Africa’s most sought after collector’s items.
Acclaimed musicians Martín Perna (Antibalas, Ocote Soul Sounds), Gangbe Brass, several members of Antibalas, and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo have participated in the recording of a song to support the Kids Against Malaria initiative. The message of the song is pretty basic: sleep under an insecticide treated mosquito net and get to a medical provider as soon as you’re feeling sick.
The Kids Against Malaria effort started with a song written by teacher Sim D’Souza and his students at an arts and music elementary school in Whydah (Oidah), Benin, called CIAMO. The song reached musician and filmmaker Jon Fine, who produced the song by enlisting the support of renowned Afrobeat and world music artists.
The “Kids Against Malaria” project was launched. It’s a multi-language musical project focusing on malaria treatment and prevention. With the international team, the producers filmed and recorded in New York City and Benin with support from the United States Embassy in Benin, UNICEF, The President’s Malaria Initiative, USAID, Peace Corps, the CDC, The UN Foundation and Harvard University.
Malaria is still widespread in much of the world. About 3.2 billion people – nearly half the planet’s population – are at risk. The disease, spread by the bite of female mosquitoes infected with Plasmodium parasites, is generally deadly for pregnant women and children under the age of five. It’s estimated that 1,200 children a day are dying from malaria around the world. Malaria is both preventable and curable.
All the proceeds from downloads, music videos, ringtones, educational videos, and social media initiatives, earned from the song will benefit CIAMO School of Music (for arts education), The UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign (to purchase nets) and Harvard University’s Defeating Malaria: From the Genes to the Globe initiative (for Malaria research).
Angélique Kidjo is one of the African singers with more attraction and performance power. The direct rhythms, strong, energetic, taken from the traditions of her homeland, Benin (Western Africa), are combined with the sounds of reggae, samba, funk, soul, gospel, zouk and many more.
On stage is where Kidjo shows her charisma. She is a great dancer. With her very short hair style, she is a real version of the “postmodern” African woman. In addition, she has the ability of communicating with her audience, a gift that is transmitted just as well live as on her CDs. “Even when I am singing alone in my own studio, I imagine that I am with my audience.”
Kidjo was born in Cotonou and was raised in Quidah, a small coastal city of Benin, a country that harbors numerous cultures. The main language of Benin is Fon, the language that Angélique uses more often when she sings, although she also sings in English, a language that she speaks with fluency, as well as French.
Kidjo comes from a family with nine siblings, who have an open mind about international music. Her mother, a choreographer and theatrical director, has had a profound influence in the life of Angélique, who used to act in her mother’s plays when she was a little girl.
Traditional music was not the only kind of music that the young Angelique used to listen to. Benin, in the 1970s was open to numerous styles: salsa, Zairean rumba, makossa from Cameroon, soul, funk, Gospel… even Arabic and Indian music was available. Her brother, a guitarist, introduced her to the sounds of Santana and they memorized his songs.
When she was still an adolescent, Kidjo began to tour Benin performing at local festivals and on the radio. She was one of the few female artists doing this. People in Benin didn’t look kindly to women who tried to make a professional living from singing. “It was so hard. I really had to fight.”
Miriam Makeba, the South African singer, was one of her main idols and Kidjo performed some of her songs, like the Swahili ballad Malaika.
She moved to Paris in 1983, where she found a melting pot of music. Some of the most famous West African musicians, such as Salif Keita and Manu Dibango, were also in Paris, either recording albums or living there. African musicians mixed with Caribbean, French and American musicians. The result was an explosion of hot rhythms and a crossed fertilization of world-beat styles that found an echo in the in the musical experience of Kidjo and created the most appropriate environment so that she could develop her own style.
“Some call it afro-funk, they can call it whatever they want, but it is really difficult to classify my music within only one style. Even when I use my own traditional music I don’t try to recreate just only style but rather I mix it all.”
Kidjo took advantage of her stay in Paris to enroll in a jazz school. “There, I was taught many things, I improved my tone and I learned flexibility for my voice.” It was an important element for someone whose native language is Fon, which is tonic, with a soft oscillating musical profile.
Angélique joined a Dutch Afro-jazz group, Pili Pili, with which she recorded two albums. Together they participated at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1987. That same year she met Jean Hebrail, a French bassist and composer, whom she married sometime later.
Parakou, her first internationally distributed album, featured Jasper van’t Hof, the leader of Pili Pili.
Logozo, recorded in Miami in 1991 and produced by Joe Galdo of Miami Sound Machine, featured Branford Marsalis on saxophone. Marsalis later performed on Kidjo’s album Oremi. The album features Kidjo singing duets with Cassandra Wilson (“Never Know”) and Kelly Price (“Open Your Eyes”).
Kidjo’s most ambitious album, Fifa (1996), featured more than 100 percussionists, flutists, cowbell and berimbau players, singers, and dancers from Benin and one track featuring Carlos Santana.
In 1998, she started a trilogy of albums, Oremi, Black Ivory Soul and Oyaya that explored the African roots of the music of the Americas. Oremi featured Cassandra Wilson, Branford Marsalis, Kelly Price and Kenny Kirkland.
During 2001, Kidjo started to work on the Black Ivory Soul album, drawing connections between Benin and music of Bahía, Brazil. “For the new album, I went to Brazil and wrote songs with Carlinhos Brown, and Vinicius Cantuaria, and I am covering a song by Gilberto Gil, which he wrote after traveling to Benin.” The album also features drummer Ahmir Thompson, from the Roots, and Romero Lumbambo, the Brazilian guitar master, along with African and Bahianese players. “The concept of the album is based on my research into truth and the idea of bringing people together through music.”
Kidjo won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music for her album Djin Djin, and in the same year received Benin’s Commander of National Order of Merit for loyal services to the nation. Kidjo dedicated her Grammy award to the “women of Darfur, the women who are fighting every day to give their kids an education.” On Djin Djin, Kidjo collabnotrated with guest stars including Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana, Joss Stone, Ziggy Marley, Branford Marsalis and Josh Groban. The record was a return to Kidjo’s Beninese roots, capturing the most traditional rhythms from her country. It comprised material sung in her native languages as well as in English and French.
Since March 2009, Kidjo has been campaigning for “Africa for women’s rights”–a movement launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). In September of 2009, UNICEF and Pampers launched the ‘Give the Gift of Life’ campaign to eradicate Tetanus and asked Kidjo to produce a song, “You Can Count On Me,” where each download of the song donated a vaccine to a mother or mother-to-be. She also campaigned for Oxfam at the Hong Kong WTO meeting for their Fair Trade Campaign, participated in the video for the ‘In My Name Campaign’ with Will I Am from The Black Eyed Peas, and was one of the LiveEarth Ambassadors for the 2010 ‘Run For Water’ events along with Jessica Biel and Pete Wentz.
Also in 2010, musician and philanthropist Peter Buffett and Kidjo teamed up to release “A Song For Everyone.” 100% of proceeds from the sale of the song benefited the Batonga Foundation, an organization founded by Angelique to advance education for girls in Africa.
Oyo, released in 2010, celebrates the music that shaped Kidjo’s artistic formation, including “Lakutshona Llanga,” a lullaby made famous by Kidjo’s hero, Miriam Makeba; Yoruban interpretations of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” and Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti;” a collaboration with Diane Reeves on “Monfe Ran E,” a tribute to the Aretha Franklin hit, “Baby I Love You;” and a take on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat.”
Oyo features a band of acclaimed musicians, including guitarist Lionel Loueke, Christian McBride on upright bass, Kendrick Scott on drums and Thiokho Diagne on percussion. Trumpeter Roy Hargove makes a memorable appearance on “Samba Pa Ti.”
Kidjo’s 2014 album Eve (429 Records) is named after Kidjo’s mother. Eve is a collection of songs dedicated to the power of African womanhood, mostly those women Angelique grew up with in her native Benin. The guests on the album include Dr. John, Rostamm Btmanglij (Vampire Weekend), the Kronos Quartet and the Orchestra Philharmonique du Luxumbourg, as well as guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Steve Jordan, bassist Christian McBride and Senegalese percussionist Magatte Sow.
In 2015 Angelique Kidjo won her second “Best World Music Album” Grammy Award for her Eve album. That same year Kidjo released Sings, recorded with the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg, conducted by Gast Waltzing. This project fused the classical music traditions of Europe and the rhythms of her native land. Kidjo recreated nine classic pieces from her 24 year discography and two new songs (“Otishe,” “Mamae”) from the sessions of her Eve album.
The guest artists on Sings include upright bassists Christian McBride and Massimo Biolcati; guitarists Lionel Loueke, Dominic James and David Laborier; Gast Waltzing on flugelhorn; several native Beninese singers, and Brazilian classical guitarist Romero Lubambo.
“The orchestra brings different textures to my life and music,” said Kidjo about her symphonic collaboration. “Unlike in pop music, the orchestra doesn’t follow you, it leads and dares you to follow it. If you don’t do this successfully, the songs suffer and the communication is lost. But I love the challenge of doing new things. I never want to get too comfortable with what I’m doing, and I love my work too much to repeat myself.”
In addition to her music career, Kidjo has devoted much of her adult life to global charity work. She is a spokesperson for UNICEF and Oxfam, and created her own charity, Batonga, which aims to create a culture that values and supports the secondary education of girls in Africa.
Beninese singer-songwriter Rasbawa is the son of a businessman and a traditional music singer. Very early, he became interested in music. While in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), he fell in love with reggae.
He started to sing in the school choral society and later sang and composed within several groups based in Yamoussoukro (Ivory Coast), including Akanza, New Fashion and Ebioso.
In 1992 he moved to France, where he registered at the Modern School of Music in Grenoble. While he improved his musical skills and learned musical theory, he worked with several local bands, Fallah Five in 1993 and Struggle in 1994. In 1995 he formed his own group and in December recorded his first album, Black or White Image of God.
Rasbawa played live alongside major Jamaican acts. His second album, Passeport, came out in 1998.
His third recording, Jeunesse Africaine (African Youth) came out in 2000.
In 2002 he produced 2 young Beninese artists: Adjag and Daristo.
Island King Records, a label specialized in roots Reggae, released the fourth album, De Paris a Bohicon (From Paris to Bohicon).
Julien Jacob arrived in France during his early childhood. His West-Indian parents settled in the South of France. For him, who was born in Benin, Africa, it was the encounter with a new culture. But he kept from his native country the imprint of African chants and rhythms.
H was passionate about music from his early childhood. Julian listened to Jazz, Motown music, mystical Asian chants, ethnic songs and dances. All these seeds enriched his artistic talent
In 1977, he performed on stage for the first time as lead singer for a rock band at the age of 17. After a few years, he decided to go his own way and left the group in 1983. From then on, he concentrated on composing his own music. But during this period, he also worked backstage at concerts by world renowned artists like David Bowie and Miles Davis. Backstage, he had intense artistic encounters, in particular a fabulous evening with Fela Kuti and his musicians.
In 1993, he left the south of France and settled in Paris, a time during which his artistic identity affirmed itself . Inspiration pushed him to sing in a mysterious language which he found within himself. An unknown language which everybody can understand because the words only find their meaning in the emotions they carry. From then on, Julien would sing in his own language.
At the same time, he started writing books. He has forever followed an internal quest and he writes about what he perceives of the invisible life. Music and writing are for him two different ways to express his quest.
In 1995, Julien finally found his adoptive home in Brittany. And from then on, everything moved faster. One year after self-producing a 4 track record, he recorded his first album, Shanti (Warner), and got on the road for 4 years full of stage experiences in France and abroad.
Julien Jacob’s second album, Cotonou, was released worldwide in February 2005 by British label Wrasse Records. To introduce his intimate afro-pop, Julien surrounded himself with his loyal producer and sound magician Ghislain Baran, the talented and famous percussionist Steve Shehan and the master of mandola lute Akim Hamadouche. His friend Rachid Taha a lent him his voice and sings the chorus on the track “Yacob”.
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo is a national institutions in Benin, West Africa. Formed during the late 1960s, they soundtracked the years following Benin’s independence under Kerekou’s Marxist-Leninist regime, whipping up a groundbreaking fusion of traditional highlife, Afrobeat, soul, funk and the indigenous styles and voodoo-led traditions of their homeland.
Their songs touched on all of their national languages – the mina French dialect, Fon and Yoruba – and confidently referenced a broad range of international music from James Brown to Johnny Halliday. As well as forging their own success, they were the first port of call to back many of West Africa’s greatest artists, from Gnonnas Pedro to Manu Dibango and Bembeya Jazz.
The band’s reputation began spreading to Western audiences in 2004 through a Soundway compilation of archive classics and rarities followed by two collections on Analog Africa. Around the same time, French radio producer Elodie Maillot (Radio France, Vibrations, Mondomix) began seeking out the original band members in Benin. After a memorable radio interview, the musicians asked her to help them achieve their dream – to play once in a lifetime outside of Africa.
Since then, the band has reformed, now a 10-piece featuring five original members from the very first ‘60s incarnation, two from the mid-‘70s line-up and three new members. They have played many high profile concerts, bringing the infectious Poly-Rythmo sonic melting pot to a whole new generation of fans from the African Soul Rebels tour of major UK arts centers and the WOMAD festival to Lincoln Center in New York.
Recorded in Paris and produced by Maillot, Cotonou Club, released in 2011, was the band’s first new album in over 20 years, a celebration of the Poly-Rythmo sound with new versions of the band’s classics, including the West African hit ‘Gbeti Madjro’, and a host of new compositions. Guest appearances include African superstar Angelique Kidjo, Fatoumata Diawara and Paul Thomson and Nick McCarthy from indie rock band Franz Ferdinand, both huge fans of the group.
Gnonnan Sossou Pierre Kouassivi, better known as Gnonnas Pedro, was a singer-songwriter, salsero and musician born in Lokossa, Benin.
Gnonnas Pedro had always excelled in many styles of music but if one had to associate him with a particular genre it would be Agbadja. Agbadja is a rhythm hugely popular in Togo, Benin and Ghana, and is used mainly during burial ceremonies. It is based on three percussions, each one of them with a different tone.
Agbadja was born in and dominates a region called Le Mono in the center of Benin and also the birthplace of Gnonnas Pedro. Gnonnas adopted and modernized the rhythm in the mid-1960s calling it “Agbadja Moderne”. It became his trademark and he was soon dubbed “Le Roi du Rhythme Agbadja.” In addition to Agbadja, he also played highlife and juju.
Pedro led his own bands Pedro y sus Panchos, later reforming as Gnonnas Pedro and his Dadjes Band, before joining the long-lived Orchestre Poly-rythmo de Cotonou. He sang in many different languages, including Minad, Adja, Yoruba, French, English, and Spanish.
Gnonnas Pedro became well-known internationally as the lead singer of Africando between 1995 and 2004.
Gnonnas Pedro died August 12, 2004 in a hospital in Cotonu, Benin.
Dadjes: The Band Of Africa (1975)
Gnonnas Pedro (Disco Stock, 1979)
El Cochechivo (Ledoux, 1981) Gombo Salsa, with Africando (Stern’s Africa STCD1071, 1996) Baloba, with Africando (Stern’s Africa STCD1082, 1998) Agbadja (Syllart, 1999) Irma koi (Syllart, 1999) Mandali, with Africando (Stern’s Africa STCD1092, 2000) Live!, with Africando (Sono CDS8907, double CD, 2001) Martina, with Africando (Stern’s Africa STCD1096, 2003) The best of Gnonnas Pedro (2003) Ketukuba, with Africando (Stern’s Africa STCD1103, 2006)
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.
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo not only composed and recorded hundreds of songs but they still found time to arrange and record for other artists, one of them being “Le premier ministre du Diable” – Antoine Dougbé.
Dougbé created his own style which he dubbed Afro Cavacha, a fantastic mixture of Congolese Rumba, Latin sounds and traditional frenetic Vodoun rhythms. Original Antoine Dougbé vinyl records that were released on his own label, Editions Dougbé Antoine, have become some of Africa’s most sought after collector’s items.
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