This classic dance band from Cotonou, Benin, have been enjoying an unexpected revival in recent years. Reissue releases of their super cool “Voodoo funk” hits from the ‘70s, on the Analog Africa label, started a buzz. This was the sound of West African funk before Fela, afrobeat and all that. It had something wild, something lyrical, something deep and dark undeniably African about it, even as it aped the the foreign styles of the day. Many were surprised last summer when the actual band turned up in a show at Lincoln Center. We at Afropop quickly concluded that this almost-forgotten band was once again a going concern. A major player in this story is Radio France reporter turned die-hard fan and band manager Elodie Maillot. Hers is a story in itself, but suffice it to say, she has made it her mission not to let these guys slip into the pages of history without another good run.
So the wait has been for the proverbial Poly-Rhythm “revival CD.” And here it is. Does the band have all the fire it had in the ‘70s? Of course not. But there’s nothing false or tampered-with about this session. And nothing tepid either. The voices are more aged and burly than on those old reissue CDs, but they sound great. And the brass section is splendid, a big warm sound that sweeps us back to a moment of great optimism in Africa. All the elements are here: pre-Fela West African funk (“Pardon” “Lion is Burning”), the requisite nod to Cuban music (“Koumi Dede”), ebullient, guitar-driven highlife (“Ma Vie”) and best of all, the signature blend of voodoo religious rhythms and melodies and ‘70s funk.
“Océ” and “C’Est Lui Ou C’Est Moi” might be the best examples, with an undertow of percussion, richly blended voices, and a moody minor key that adds an air of nostalgia and mystery to these irresistible dance grooves. Also noteworthy are remakes of two old favorites, “Von Vo Nono,” with its wickedly catchy hook and cantering lope, and, the song that put this band on the map in 1969, “Gbede Madjro.” Here the groove is on fire, and the bucking, rowdy restlessness of the early independence years in West Africa is palpable. Angelique Kidjo joins in to great effect. This was probably among the first songs she ever heard, and finding her here on this most welcome remake, gives a feeling of completing the circle. We are lucky indeed that this legendary band is still in such fine shape. We need more Poly-Rythmo!