Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Contonou ‘The Skeletal Essences of Voodoo Funk. Vol. 3’ 2LP/CD/Digital (Analog Africa) 4/5

In some respects Benin-rooted group Orchestre Poly-Rythmo have taken over the mantle of Senegal’s Orchestre Baobab in the heart of UK’s retro West African music aficionados and their wonderful tour of a few years back has done little to dissuade one of that view. This third instalment of the group’s musical legacy is another treasure trove of musical delights that, in addition, spans a fairly long chronological period from 1969 through 1985. While the sound quality does vary considerably, it never hinders the listener’s pleasure and in fact the rustic recording sound of the 1970s in particular has a charm all of its own. There is no overlap with any previous compilation of the group and so even those new to the group’s sound will find this an excellent entry point and those already in the know will marvel at the variation of rhythms on offer. Heavy brass, cheesy keyboards and distorted sound do not prevent ‘Karateka’ from being one of the compilation’s most compelling songs and there is a terrific atmospheric presence here. JB style funk is the order of the day on ‘Akoue We Gni Gan’ with rhythmic guitar riffs and lead vocals and it should not be forgotten that James Brown’s famous concert in Zaire to tie in with the Muhammad Ali boxing contest made a long-lasting impression at the time on African musicians. Parallels with Baobab are all too obvious on a Cuban-influenced piece such as ‘Vi E Lo’ which is another highlight and has a gorgeous clipped guitar and bassline with joint lead vocals. Hypnotic and heavy Afro-Beat percususive grooves are the dominant feature of ‘Ai Gabani’ and the keyboard licks sound as they have been inspired by listening to Jimmy Smith. It should not be forgotten that Benin is an integral part of Francophone Africa and evidence of this is proved on ‘Ecoutes ma mélodie’ which has by far the most modern sound quality and probably dates from the mid-1980s. The bassline on this song is highly infectuous and recalls Willis Jackson’s anthemic ‘Nuthern like Thuthern’.

For even more variety, a French-style ‘slow; rhythm is provided on ‘Min We Tun So’. This release and the two preceding volumes are dedicated to the memory of band member Melome Clement who passed away in December 2012.

Tim Stenhouse