Apr 28, 2011

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou: Interview from 2010

The interview was originally published in the French magazine Vibrations. Unfortunately, my french is not good enough, therefore, the translation was technically supported. Due to this there may be some mistakes in the english version of the french orginal but it still seems to interesting to hide for me. Enjoy!!!


Rediscovered thanks in large part compilations, T. P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo Cotonou himself a second adolescence with a world tour and new releases in preparation. Stone (saxophone) and Vincent (Vocals) return to the epic of the Almighty Orchestra earlier commemorations of independence and unprecedented revival of interest faced by funk production from West Africa.

How did the adventure of TP Orchestre Poly-Rythmo Cotonou where you produce yourself?

Vincent: The story began in a small way from a band called Sonny Black's Band. Its owner, who was married to a French woman and had to return to France, had yielded to a fellow who owned a company called Poly-Disco. When he renamed the band, he wanted to keep a name that is close to its name. That's how the group emerged under the name Poly-Rythmo. Originally, it consisted of eight persons and the group has gradually surrounded by other musicians. The nightclubs were born in large part due to Poly-Rythmo and we performed everywhere, but our favorite spot was undoubtedly the Zenith. Dancing in a bar where we played every Saturday and Sunday. It was a sacred place which, even today, is the pride of Benin. People are nostalgic for that place, they would love to see another zenith now that the Poly-Rythmo is doing around the world. We have to really put them to create our Zenith ... Otherwise, we played around for weddings, parties various official birthdays, etc.. It was more with the government of the day and there was no event for which we were not solicited. Moreover, we were called national orchestra, while we were not ...

So you play a particular role in society and politics after independence?

Vincent: It must be said that since independence, the country will not fly. We groped, there were coups in here and there. These are the same coming back and going out. At one point, a military took power and, for this time, everyone became aware that something would change. It was therefore necessary to paste this, to participate in this movement to give more chances to the government, so that the hope was born of this coup was to become a reality. Our conductor MELOME Clement had the ingenuity to compose many beautiful songs about the revolution. The people in power realized that through us they were possible to bring their best Marxist-Leninist they conveyed. That's how we got to play in all their official functions. You could contact us half an hour beforehand, we were traveling to attend. Unfortunately, the government has not supported us as we have supported. We do not stop repeating, now that the damage is done, we can not go back ... Now, with democratic renewal, we remain more distant.

In this year of commemoration of Independence, how do you see your political involvement?

Vincent: Is this the Independence we have brought something positive? That's the question we ask ourselves first. It's true we are liberated, which is crucial. But this liberation, is it complete? In my opinion, it depends. We can not produce ourselves, everything comes from outside. Only the direction of the country became free, everything else is attached to the colonizers. Formerly with the West, today it's more of China. We're here, we observe. Poly-Rythmo wonder what we will celebrate? We will celebrate 50 years but 50 years of what? What our children born after independence, retain as a hope for tomorrow? At our age, we must continue working to bring some home. In principle, 50 years after we should have reservations in which we can draw to live easily in the sun. But we must continue to work. Celebrating independence is well and if we seek to do a concert we will. We've already been approached by some countries, but in our case, we take care of our tour instead.

How are new generations they welcome your music?

Vincent: All kids love that the Poly-Rythmo could go before even the birth of their parents. All we did is still relevant and it returns to the holiday company. Everyone finds himself in, even the grandchildren love to sing Poly-Rythmo. We must understand that we have left a legacy that will span generations and ages. We have always made music to young people.

Peter: You can also complete at present, people need us as much in places that dances at concerts. People of our generation have problems today. They are stuck at home, they can not get out, they can not go have fun, be happy ... But they want to relive the old days!

What is so funk revival also felt in Africa?

Peter: Yes, this legacy is one that still remains music lover today. The new generation, "Generation Yo" and it is a mid-parade. Friendly people, those who are retired and want to stretch and do some sport, they need to listen to old music to dance the old dances. There are a lot of nostalgia.

Where was your musical inspiration and how do you access to productions of the time?

Vincent: Here in Benin, we had only one source, the National Radio. But when we manage to go out, for example in Niger, we had access for the first time in European music. It gave us the opportunity to stock up and then listen and interpret. That's how we discovered what had outside like jazz, soul, funk ... At the time, there was not enough nightclubs. The nightclubs were born in Benin to sell the works Poly-Rythmo, because it was leaking.

Peter: In Cotonou, we also listened to the Voice of America. We were all connected, we listened to soul music and it was inspired by these rhythms to our own compositions. Their origins were more or less African, which allowed us to have more facility to evolve with this kind of music. Thus it is gone and we call more than 500 titles.

How do you produce your songs?

Vincent: We had a senior producer who had the means to take us in the studio in Nigeria, such as EMI, for example, was a very large studio. For producers who could not afford to finance a trip to Nigeria, we recorded a single with Nagra for full orchestra. We have recorded dozens of titles a month coming out in the form of 33 laps. We were dependent on no label was the self-production, we were totally free.

What is your opinion on the craze for Western labels highlighting African groups of the 60s and 70s?

Vincent: Do you ever find yourself there sometimes have no desire to eat something you have not eaten for a long time. Moments where you say, I'm tired of all you serve me at home, give me something new! Groups that emerged in Europe today, no interest once too because their music was modeled, was a music export. It was often Mandingo music, from the Sahel. Europeans have heard these songs so they want something new, different. They discovered that the former had done something special, with a certain beauty. Today, we're not so surprised by this enthusiasm. What was really surprised to see is Europeans sing our songs in our dialect. That's the best!

You recently collaborated on a track with Franz Ferdinand, how do you react to the fact that Western groups cite as your musical inspiration?

Peter: Yes, we made new records with Franz Ferdinand and they really surprised us by admitting that they wanted to go to the music by listening to our songs. They did everything to be able to record a song with us. People appreciate what they do not know what they have ever heard. Désomrais demand is very strong, groups that are born now are forced to draw from there to Africa to stay on top ..

Vincent: It's really a surprise. We are in a small country in Africa, how is it that our work ultimately inspire English musicians as talented? These are really good boys, they are very respectful and they have an inspiration on edge. They know how to work, recording in the studio was really great. We share the funk, so we can still work together. We are currently preparing an album consisting mostly of new songs.

What effect it brings to your first world tour at the dawn of the 70 years?

Vincent: Our manager (Ed.: Elodie Maillot Journalist) works very well and now we have more rest, we are constantly working. We are currently in Portugal, we will leave for Denmark, France, England, Ireland, Quebec and the United States next year, we have a fairly glowing list of concerts ahead. It's a new world that lies before us and we will enjoy as much as we can. We just want to give happiness that people expect from us when we perform in concert. They do not tire and we can live a wonderful world music, funk and voodoo.

Peter: This world tour is a discovery for us. We see a different audience from the one used to see from us, other ways of living, other ways. That's why we're going to touch thousands of people to discuss and try to cause a bit to see how they react. We are all composers and this is a way to give us films through which we learn a lot. We are really happy.

Vincent: For the moment, these are the old songs the audience wants to hear and so much the better. This tour proves that the work we've done it for thirty or forty years was not bad. It was naive of music since we were aged between 16 and 20 years. We loved the music, we wanted to make music and our goal was primarily to amuse people. If the world today recognizes the quality of what we did, we can only give thanks to God.

Can you add something to your music over voodoo?

Vincent: We use the whole arsenal of voodoo music. The tom-toms, bells, castanets, ... it all comes from us, the country's voodoo. We integrate as much as we can in the music we make and we have created pieces of music voodoo at a given time. Sapata or the sato were built on a background of music voodoo. Our ancestors knew that before colonial penetration, these are the gods they worshiped and we are born into it. Today, Christianity is everywhere, but voodoo is still very powerful.

This really does he not have a problem mixing the tradition with western music?

Vincent: It's our heritage and we use it as we want, we do not have a curse. I tell you, we are children of voodoo, the only difference being that we are not followers. I loved being a follower of voodoo, have the scars, dancing, wearing the trappings of voodoo, I love it! (Posted in ambush, MELOME Clement laughs) ... Our parents see us do and we know that can not go beyond what is allowed ... We remain within the limits of exploitable.

Thanx for the interview goes to Joël Vacheron at Vibrations.


Additionally, another article of them ...

Leading up to seeing Orchestre Poly-Rythmo in Chicago earlier this month, I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas. The same frantic anticipation that I had previously felt for video games and action figures was now inspired by a Beninese funk band. But not just any Beninese funk band — Le Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou, the kings of groove.

The Orchestre was the first real African music I had ever heard. They are the reason I’ve been obsessed with Africa's musical output for the better part of two years. They’re my Pink Floyd, my Nirvana, my Social Distortion; they’re one of those bands that turns fans into fanatics.

Initially, I was a little disappointed to hear that they were playing a free show at Millennium Park. Every Chicagoan knows that free shows there often are an open invitation for elderly suburbanites and grumpy park security guards to stifle any fun or livelihood that the music may bring. But it was clear from the moment that opener La 33 came on that this was not a typical Millennium Park show.

Colombia’s La 33 are a fairly straightforward yet talented salsa band. They kicked the night off with a rousing set of Latin American sounds. Couples stood up and danced in the aisles. The brass section stole the show with bombastic solos and a trombonist that acted like the Gene Simmons of salsa, complete with tongue flapping and pelvic thrusting.

The Orchestre came on after a brief stage adjustment. They paraded in while reciting a traditional Vodoun chant, wearing vintage silk shirts that looked as though they had been picked off the set of Superfly.

I rushed to the front of the stage and screamed as I heard the opening notes of “Se Ba Ho.” It was thrilling to see everybody around me begin to dance while the band played. And though it had been many years since the Orchestre laid down the track in the studio, they managed to play with the same energy captured indelibly on record.

They played with just the right mix of improvisation and precision and never once got carried away in self-indulgent solos or dull numbers. “Gbeti Madjro” displayed the impeccable guitar work of Fifi LePrince as well as the vocal capabilities of Cosme Anago, Vincent Ahéhéhinnou, and Mélomé Clément.

The two drummers fed off of each other, creating entrancing poly-rhythms to which the crowd danced ecstatically. They played an encore before exiting the stage to thunderous applause and the same Vodoun chant that they came in with.

“We love playing shows; we do it as often as we can,” said Clément, a jolly middle-aged man who speaks with a hushed rasp. “Our tour manager booked us for a tour of Europe after our music was reissued, and we had always wanted to play in the US. Some of our biggest musical idols are American — Otis Redding and James Brown — so it seemed natural to play here. But playing in Chicago was a real thrill; we’ve never played for so many people before.”

I asked him how the band has stayed together for so long, and he laughed heartily before saying, “We love what we do. Money is secondary to music for me, and I’ve always found a way to balance my two worlds. My band mates are my closest friends, so we just kept doing what we always did, getting together and playing music.”

This sense of kinship and a collective love of music have kept the Orchestre together since the 1970s, a feat of longevity not often equaled.
“Our new album is coming out in a few months; we’re very excited to see that released," Clément said as we parted ways. "We really want to tour more, so look out for us.”

For the sake of live music, I certainly hope they do.

Originally published at alarmpress.com, written by Arthur Pascale

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