While the sound of West African afrobeat music has been dominated by relatively few names on an international level, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou has remained under the radar since the band formed in the late 1960s. The Benin-based group has produced sonic combinations of soulful brass, electric funk guitar and traditional voodoo rhythms that draw similarities to Fela Kuti and Sir Victor Uwaifo. Despite the fact the band has recorded over 50 albums in its lifetime, the latest release Cotonou Club comes after a 20-year hiatus and has already gained unprecedented attention for Orchestre Poly-Rythmo.
Cotonou Club features new compositions as well as new versions of classic songs like “Gbeti Madjro.” Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo is also joined by Beninese superstar Angélique Kidjo, Fatoumata Diawara and Franz Ferdinand’s Paul Thomson and Nick McCarthy. Although the collaboration on “Lion Is Burning” with the Glasgow rockers clearly moves in a unique direction away from Orchestra Poly-Rythmo’s core sound, Franz Ferdinand’s praise of the band and involvement with the record will definitely bring the album into the hands of even more unexpected listeners.
The 20-year gap in Orchestre Poly-Rythmo’s history is apparent in the sound of the ensemble as the band attempts to tie modern methods of recording with its grassroots feel from decades ago. Aesthetically, Contonou Club lacks the backyard feel that the band’s recordings in the 1970s had with new dimensions offering an individual presence to each instrumentalist rather than a united group of musicians. However, the music is still driven by the same conceptual forces, instrumentation and voodoo tradition that Orchestre Poly-Rythmo has always been known for. Contonou Club is not only a symbol of the group’s reunion; it marks the continuation and growth of a West African musical revolution.