Filed under: Dahomey
In Benin, records must grow on trees. For such a small country, there seems to be hundreds of records from there – and most of them are really good. There were loads of small labels both in Benin and in neighboring Nigeria. And in 1973, the Societé Africaine de Techniques Electroniques – or SATEL – pressing plant opened it’s doors on the highway between Cotonou and Porto Novo, which became one of the most popular pressing plans in all of Western Africa.
One of those labels was Albarika Store, which was also then name of a chain of record stores, was ran by Seidou Adissa. Samy Ben Redjeb interviewed Celestin Houenou Seza, who was Adissa’s right hand man, for the liner notes of the African Scream Contest compilation on Analog Africa.
I was giving lessons to Adissa’s children during holidays and I guess I made a good impression on him because as soon as I finished school in 1969 he asked me to help him to manage his new project. He loved traditional music from his tribe, the Yoruba and he wanted to produce a few artists and see if he could make a business out of it. The first artist recorded was Yedenou Adjahaoi, who was the most popular traditional artist in the region. His first single was recorded in Nigeria and distributed by Badejo in 1968. That record was a hit. As a consequence Adissa came to see me and offered me a chance to join his music company. I had just finished school and was a seventeen-year-old boy full of ambition and he was a great businessman who couldn’t read or write. He showed me the whole procedure – from the recording to the pressing plants via the distribution network, and by the time we did our first modern recording. which was by Gnonnas Pedro, I knew how to run the whole label by myself.
In 1969 the students from the University of Porto Novo were going crazy for a track from Ghana called Sock It to Me (by The Super Eagles) and they were bombarding us with requests. We never experienced that kind of reaction so we were wondering what kind of song could that be? So I traveled to Accra to buy a small stock of that record which we would resell in Dahomey. I purchased about a hundred 45s, and in two days they were all gone. We didn’t want to go back to Accra to get some more. Instead, we thought of recording our own version for the Benin market. El Rego had a guy called Eddy Black Power who could do that kind of stuff, so we approached him. We left for Lagos with El Rego et Ses Commandos where they recorded four songs We sold three thousand copies of the title Feeling You Got (the cover version of Sock It To Me) which was a huge success at the time, so we decided to look for the band members of the Super Eagles to buy a license. Despite many trips to Ghana we never managed to find them Then, one day we found out they were actually from Gambia!
A few months later we signed Orchestre Poly-Rythmo. Adissa wanted the song Angelina, so we traveled to Lagos for a recording; that was in early 1970. Adissa hadn’t even noticed the other songs we recorded that day, but I felt something would happen with the track Gbeti Madjro. Man, it spread like wildfire. We sold a lot – not sure how many, but a lot. I believe that song revolutionized the music industry in this country.
At that time we had decided not just to focus on bands from Porto Novo, or Cotonou, but also to travel all over the country to locate and record the best bands. I was in charge of those kinds of operations – I was actually in charge of everything, but that’s the part I am most proud of. I would travel to every corner of Benin looking for groups. In Parakou, which is located in the northeast of the country we bumped into an excellent band led by Alidou Boukari called Anassoua Jazz, Their first recording with us was a Jerk called Fatouma Na Alidou recorded in 1971. We had huge success in the Borgou state with that one, which encouraged other bands from the region to seek our production.
One day I found (Moussa) Mama Franco in front of my door. He explained that he had a group called Super Borgou de Parakou, and that he wanted us to record them, Moussa seemed to be a serious guy with a positive attitude, so I traveled back with him, and found out that the band was having enormous success with its live performances. They had an incredible drum’ mar I forgot his name, and their lead singer had a golden voice; we used to call him “Saka”. It was with Super Borgou that we made our first extended play 7” inch record. Some of the bands we recorded over the years were rebels and I spent a lot of time checking the lyrics and censoring offensive words I had to make sure the songs could be played on the radio. When El Rego covered Sock It to Me, I changed the tide to Feeling You Got. Some of the groups we produced simply didn’t want us to touch to any of their lyrics, so we would just drop the title and get on with our business. But to release a song with naughty lyrics would have given us bad press, and my job as to make sure that didn’t happen.
This interview is just about the only mention of Orchestre Anassoa Jazz de Parakou. The only other information that I have been able to find is that the main person behind the band was Alidou Boukari – who would later go on to form Orchestre Anos Band. Also, Orchestre Anassoa Jazz de Parakou released at least two other singles, both on the Albarika Store label.
Catalog number ASB29 on Albarika Store of Lagos, Nigeria. No release date listed.
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