Artist Profiles: Orchestre Poly-Rythmo

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo

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.

Discography:

1st Album (1973, reissued by Analog Africa in 2011)
Kings of Benin Urban Groove 1972-80 (Soundway, 2004)
Rhythmo De Cotonou 1: Vodoun Effect – Funk & Sato (Analog Africa, 2008)
Echos Hypnotiques 2 (Analog Africa, 2009)
Cotonou Club (Strut Records, 2011)
Skeletal Essences of Afro Funk 3: 1969-1980 (Analog Africa, 2013)

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.

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