Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, The 1st Album

Michaelangelo Matos

By Michaelangelo Matos

on 05.26.11 in Reviews
Analog Africa’s great gift to the world

American and European fans of African music often become that way via compilations; Analog Africa is one of several labels to recently deliver them. It's not that acts like Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou didn't make albums. A giant Beninese Afrobeat-and-beyond troupe (whose membership reached 16 at certain points) whose reissued '70s work has been Analog Africa's great gift to the world, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo cut their 1973 debut not once, but twice: The first version had too much surface noise. It's a sensible decision, because the intricacy of percussion demands a clean mix. On The First Album's closer, "Egni Miton? Nin Mi Na Wa Gbin," the band follows the dry heat of vocalist/songwriter Vincent Ahehehinnou's spoken utterances with subtle but propulsive variety of shaken and struck objects — not to mention insistent rhythm guitar strokes. "Ou C'est Lui Ou C'est Moi," cowbells and maracas draw a big, dense line around the frame of the loping groove, as Ahehehinnou's echo-drenched, above-it-all vocal and snaking wah-wah organ and guitar solos fight it out to be the track's most deliciously cheesy psychedelic moment. The compilations are still terrific, but hearing this band in situ, as it were, is just as instructive.