Filed under: Dahomey
No one knows for sure how many records that l’Orchestre Poly-Rythmo released, but it is estimated at round 50 albums and 100 singles. To say that they were prolific in nearly forty years of existence is an understatement.
The original band, which was to become the T. P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo (T. P. stands for ‘tout puissant’, meaning ‘all powerful’ or ‘all mighty’), formed in 1966 in Coutonou. The three original members of this first band were Mêlomê Clément, Eskill Lohento and François Hoessou. They were soon recognized by a local promoter and bandleader Mr. Wallace Creppy, and became based at the ‘Canne Au Sucre’ nightclub in Cotonou…
Times were hard for bands that didn’t have a sponsor in West Africa in the late sixties and early seventies. Musical instruments were expensive, imported items that cost more than the average musician could afford. Eventually, their luck changed and a local businessman, Séidou Adissa, stepped in and equipped them with everything they needed and a new era in their fortunes began. Adissa became their ‘guardian angle’, and it was during this period that they recorded almost exclusively for the Cotonou-bases Albarika Store label. Albarika Store was a record store that also released a lof of folk and traditional music, first on 45s in the early seventies, and then on a series of LPs. One of the bonuses of living only a stone’s throw across the border from the Nigerian capitol of Lagos was the ability to make full use of the best recording studios in the whole of West Africa, as well as the best and most up-to-date record-cutting and pressing facilities. During the early seventies the band cut a whole string of 45s in Lagos at the EMI studio for the Albarika label, and by the sound of it they also soaked up much of the Afro-soul and funk crazes going on there at the time. Along with groups like the Orchestre Les As, The Black Santiagos and Gnonnas Pedro, Poly-Rythmo enjoyed a special musical mix: they were geographically close to two Anglophone countries, but were in many ways culturally close to their slightly more distant Francophone cousins (this despite sharing tribal links with both Togo and Nigeria brought about through the legacy of colonial acquisition). However, bands from Benin always retained a very unique culture of their own.
As of 2006, T. P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo were still active, with Mêlomê Clément being the only surviving original member. There is an extensive interview with him in the liner notes that accompany the amazing African Scream Contest compilation on Analog Africa. Also, at the Analog Africa site, there are two unreleased songs that you can check out here.
Catalog number LA 741 on Aux Ecoutes of Dahomey. No release date listed
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