Filed under: Dahomey
I was born on May 3, 1938, in Porto Novo. My family is originally from Ouidah. After childhood in Benin I was taken to Dakar in 1945 by a wealthy friend of my father; a usual practice at that time. It was at the school Medina de Dakar in 1952 that me and some other foreigners from Togo and Benin started a school band, which we named La Jazz De Dakar. I was the harmonica player I was back in Benin in early 1953 At that time Abela music from Ghana and Asiko from Nigeria – both kinds of Highlife – had taken over our radio waves. I started looking for musicians to form a new band, which I called La Jazz Hot. G.G. Vickey, a student at that time, became my guitar player.
At the end of 19531 left for Niamey in Niger. where I encountered a band called Los Cabanos. The lead singer was excellent, especially when performing rumba classics; and as is so often the case in Africa, he was soon pinched by a producer from Ivory Coast. I was a big fan of Franco; my favorite song was “Ele Wa Bolingo”. When the Cubanos guys heard me singing that tune they realized that they had found the perfect replacement. We had gigs in Ouagadougou all the time, so we were constantly shuttling between that town and Niamey. It didn’t take too much time before the government of Burkina Faso (haute Volta in those days) asked us to join forces with L’Orchestre Voltaique, which was the national orchestra. We used to jet-set between the countries of La Conseil de l’Entente, which was a kind of United States of Africa, comprising the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin. I stayed with that formation for quite some time, eventually deciding to return to Cotonou in 1960.
At that time the talk of the town fr, Dahomey (Republic of Benin today) was Los Panchos of Gnonnas Pedro and La Sondas of the Belair Hotel. I decided toy and soon bought some musical equipment, including an amazing Contra-Bass, an instrument I had learned to play in Niger. I formed Daho Jazz in 1962. We used to play at the Black & White Club, if I remember correctly. The owner wouldn’t let us tour; which was so important to promote the music, so I left the group and joined Gnonnas Pedro’s Los Panchos. Later in 1963, I formed another band, which I called the Jets. The Jets became Los Paras, in ‘64, then Los Commandos in ‘65, and finally El Rago at Sas Commandos in ‘66. That’s when things got really serious for us, and we decided to start touring all the neighbouring countries, inciuding Ghana. It was in Ghana that I made my first appearance on TV and more importantly, where I hired Eddy Black Power, a soul singer whom I saw performing some James Brown stuff in Accra. He would later sing on a track called – “Feeling You Got” – Albarika’s first major hit.
Also, according to Frank Gossner of amazing Voodoo Funk blog, El Rego is still alive and well in Benin. Frank interviewed him for an upcoming documentary film called “Take Me Away Fast” by Leigh Iacobucci.
Since the initial posting of this song, it has since been included on the Analog Africa “Legends of Benin” compilation from 2009, which also features Antoine Dougbé, Gnonnas Pedro and Honoré Anolonto. In 2011, Daptone Records released a compilation CD and LP of the best of El Rego’s tracks. Rolling Stone posted part of the interview from “Take Me Away Fast” for the promotion of the compilation.
Catalog number L. A. 25 on Aux Ecoutes of Cotonou, Dahomey.