Filed under: Dahomey
♬ Se Djro
I have always been amazed by the sheer volume of great records from Benin. For a country about the size of a postage stamp (actually 43,483 square miles – but small nonetheless), the country formerly known as Dahomey produced major bands like Orchestre Poly-Rythmo (who released somewhere around 150 records) as well as many lesser known bands that released one or two singles. Unlike Nigeria and Ghana, where Highlife was the most popular form of music, the music of Benin was much more raw.
One of the best compilations to capture the sound of Benin, as well as neighboring Togo, is “African Scream Contest” on Analog Africa. In the liner notes, Samy Ben Redjeb explains how the musicians of the region integrated regional and foreign influences to produce a sound unlike anywhere else.
Like most modern music in French-speaking West African countries, the music of Benin and Togo was influenced by a few main musical currents: Cuban, Congolese and local traditional music, as well as Chanson Francaise. Additionally, the geographical location Benin and Togo – sandwiched between Ghana and Nigeria – exposed Beninese and Togolese musicians to Highlife music.
Benin’s two primary music importers – Afissoulai Lowani and Gbékin Hilaire, the founders of the labels Aux Ecoutes and Voix Africaine, respectively – were chiefly responsible for the development of the distribution channels for importing music into Benin, Highlife was imported from Accra and Lagos via the Philips and Decca record companies. Congolese rumba arrived from France via Khan (based in Marseille) and Sonodisc (based in Paris), as well as direct imports from Kinshasa and Brazzaville.
Cuban records were imported from New York and Miami via distribution plants in Abidjan. Chanson Francaise (especially Charles Aznavour and Johnny Halladay) was imported from France; French music was taught in schools and constantly played on national radio.
The cultural and spiritual riches of traditional Beninese music had an immense impact on the sound of Benin’s modern music. Benin is the birth place of Vodun (or, as it is commonly known in the West, Voodoo) and some of the rhythms used during traditional rituals – Sakpata, Sato, Agbadja, Tchenkoumé and many others – were fused to Soul and Latin music on early as the mid-60s and Later to Funk. Vodun was formally recognized by the Government of Benin in February 1996, and Ouidah remains its epicenter Ouidah is also home to a large Brazilian community – or, as they are called in Benin – Agoudas. Members of that community are descendents of slaves who returned from Brazil at the end of the 19th Century. Their dances (such as Kaléta and Buriyanii) and songs are still being preformed and fused into Beninese rituals. That, too, can be heard in modern Beninese music. Performers such as Ignace De Souza and Charles Rodriguez are Agoudas.
By 1968 a few labels – Albarika Store, Poly-Disco, Gretaissy and Aux Ecoutes – started recording local musicians using Nagra reel-to-reel recorders borrowed from the national radio station. The reels were then to Ghana, Nigeria, Belgium or France, where the matrices were manufactured and the vinyl pressed and released on such labels as Philips, Badejos Sound Studios, Songhoi, Riveria, etc. The first Benin artists who started recording were G. G. Vickey, Gnonnas Pedro, Picoby Band and Super Star de Ouidah, followed by El Rego, Sunny Blacks Band and Ignace De Souza.
In the late 60s Funk and Afrobeat started creeping into the region. In particular, the music of James Brown became immensely popular with university students. That’s when the music scene in Benin really started to take off. Most, if not all of the groups, started fusing all the genres mentioned above into a very distinctive sound that can only be found in that country, and made Benin into an incredible music melting pot unequalled in Africa. Bands combined Latin with Soul, Sakpata with Funk, Sate with Afrobeat, Punk with Break Beat – you name it and they probably tried it!
Other than the fact that Orchestre Black Dragons were from Porto-Novo, there is not a whole lot of information about them. They did release two other singles, both on the Albarika Store label. The song “E Sa F’Aiye” was included on the compilation “Off Track Vol 2 – Queens” which was put together by the crate diggers Kon & Amir.
Catalog number ASB 85 on Albarika Store of Cotonou, Dahomey, pressed in Lagos, Nigeria. No release date listed.