It’s not just that the scream that occurs six seconds into the fiercely funky “Se Na Min” took the prize on the awesome African Scream Contest; there were many other Beninese singers who howled stronger and longer. It’s that the voice of Theophile Do Rego was the ur-growl that begat all others in this West African country. Benin’s mightiest ensemble cited El Rego as their godfather.
Put together by our generation’s finest African excavator, Frank “Voodoo Funk” Grossner, this crucial, if belated, El Rego retrospective turns the age-old Singles vs. Albums debate on its ear: El Rego released the majority of his music on the addictive, if disposable, 45 medium, which left him out of all discussion of Important African Artists until all of those three-minute blasts could be found. It was well worth the wait: check the JB-worthy call-and-response against the crisp funk of “Hessa”; the breakneck pacing (and wild “yow”ing) of “Djobime”; the tangy percussion of “Do Do Baya.” He drops revolutionary desert blues on “Viva le Renouveau” and then gets even slower and slinkier on closer “Ke Amon-Gbetchea,” commanding our attention with a whisper, not a scream.