Filed under: Dahomey
As I have mentioned before in previous posts on music from Benin – or Dahomey as it was known back then – for such a small country, they sure did have a whole bunch of amazing singles from there. And if you have been following this site with any regularity, you probably are aware of the amazing releases on the Analog Africa label – especially the African Scream Contest compilation. Besides the incredible sounds contained on that disc, are the very informative interviews with all of the artists included – not to mention the great layout and design of the whole package. Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou were included on that compilation, and Samy Ben Redjeb interviewed lead guitarist Moussa Mama Djima
“The history of modern music in Parakou is directly connected to my father. In the 40s my dad traveled to Accra to become a goldsmith but he returned to the Borgou with something even more important – modern music. In Ghana my father fell in love with Highlife music and studied it intensively after work. When he arrived here he formed the first modern musical group of Northern Benin; it was called L’Orchestre Sinpam. When the adolescents of the region heard about it, many of them came to Parakou asking if they could get a musical education. So we had people staying here for few weeks, sometimes months, getting lessons from my dad, who was known in the area as “Mousse President”. Many of them returned to their villages to form their own bands. That’s how modern music started here in the Borgou. My older sister was the first of our family to take advantage of those classes. She learned how to play the flute and later became one of the most popular singers in northern Benin. Her name was Leha Nato. She was a rebel and the first woman in Parakou to wear trousers, and despite being a Moslem, my father encouraged this attitude. He wanted to modernize the behavior and the thinking of the people.
I was born in 1947; I don’t know the exact date but it was on a Friday, which is why people know me as Moussa “Djima” (Djima is Arabic for Friday). I grew up just watching all those musical things happening around me and I could literally feel music entering my soul. In my early teens, electric guitars started to appear in Parakou, especially during festivities: weddings, circumcision rituals, etc. The first guitarist to perform at our house was Waidy, my brother discovered him in Togo. He would entertain the folks for the whole period of Ramadan, Waidy would sleep end eat at our house, end I watched him practice every day. Then we found another guitarist in Ouidah named Aaron; he was cheaper. We did that for few years until around ’62-63. Throughout those years I never took lessons; I just watched those guys play and tried to copy them on a guitar I built using fishing line and some other tools. In ’63 for some reason we didn’t manage to find a musician to entertain the town, and Ramadan was approaching rapidly. The elders were panicking. I told them not to worry – I would play. They wondered, “When did you learn to play?”, “I will play!” I replied. On the first evening of Ramadan it happened. I performed using just two strings. The next morning people came to see my father to ask him if I was a genius or possessed by evil spirits. Soon youngsters started knocking on my door asking for guitar lessons. They would stay here for two, sometimes three months. We would discuss the price for accommodation, food and beverage. Most of my students used to pay with rice or meat; the ones who had money would pay 50.000 CFA for one month and 100.000 CFA for three months. That’s how I used to earn my living. My first band at that time was named Alafia Jazz. We covered Rumba songs by Franco – that’s where I got the artist name Mama Franco from. I changed the name of the band to OK Jazz later in ’64. A few years later we started to develop our own musical identity based on traditional rhythms and songs from the region. At some point I started thinking, We are the best band from northern Benin singing in Dindi and Bareba, but we have a Congolese name – not good! I decided to choose a name that would show our origins, so we renamed the band Super Borgou de Parakou. Ousman Amoussa handled backing vocal and gon, Sidi Alassane was on the toumba and kit drum, Sidi Seidou played traditional percussions, Soulaima Karim sang lead, Mama Biogado played the bass, Menou Roch was our rhythm guitarist and I was on lead guitar and vocals. We started touring Niger in ’69. We found a job at a bar called Congolaise; the owner was a former Guinean military man who disagreed with the politics of Sékou Touré and had fled the country with his Vietnamese wife. They were a very sweet couple, so we dedicated this song to them. All the money we managed to earn working in Niamey was invested into better equipment, amps, guitars and other stuff. One day I remember entering a music shop to buy a flute back in ’71 when I heard someone playing an instrument I had never even seen before. The sound was absolutely gorgeous. I asked the seller what kind of instrument that is, to which he replied, “It’s an organ“. I asked for the price. He told me 140.000 CFA. We had saved 300.000 CFA, so I bought that organ on the spot. That was on a Monday; by Saturday I played the whole set using it. It took me a day or two to understand it, but it wasn’t really a problem. On the third or so day I used our new acquisition to compose a hugely successful Afrobeat song called Da Doga Bouyo Inin Be. The first musical competition we did was in ’72 in Cotonou. At that time the government would choose one band from each state. Poly-Rythmo, Echos du Zou and many others were all competing. We won and consequently were invited to the International Music Festival in Berlin, Germany“.