These two releases comprise the first of crate-digging masterlabel Analog Africaâs dance editions. Â The dance editions are limited vinyl runs of full albums featuring artists that have been important to the labelâs past, having appeared on compilations and otherwise hyping the lode of lush, rhythmically ecstatic African pop, rock, and funk from the golden age of tape.
The first on display is the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, described grandly as âarguably Africaâs most innovative band.âÂ Â Surprisingly but significantly, the Orchestre comes from Benin, a small country in between Ghana and Nigeria.Â Despite its small size, Benin, and in particular its capital city of Conotou, has been a hotbed of talent dating back to the late Sixties.Â Leaders in this development, the sprawling Orchestre (b. 1968) combined traditional Vodoun rhythms with the contemporary Afrobeat, Latin, and western styles brewing at the time, creating a unique and cosmopolitan feel.
Their debut LP, reissued here, is the product of a story thatâs worth retelling.Â It comes from the first solidified lineup of the Orchestre, led by the legendary singer and songwriter Vincent Ahehehinnou.Â After gaining popularity on the live local circuit, the group was approached by the Albarika label to record a single, but Vincent convinced the label to front the recording costs of a full albumâin neighboring Lagos, Nigeria, no lessâin 1973.Â Unfortunately, this album had to be scrapped because of a noisy keyboard, but it was rerecorded and has since become one of Beninâs rarest and most legendary LPs.Â The album released by Analog Africa contains two remastered tracks from the test pressing of the first recording, and two from the officially released one.
Vincent was heavily indebted to Fela Kuti, and as such, the album is Afrobeat through and through, and first-rate at that.Â The songs may not be political like Felaâs, but the band is both airtight and loose, grooving infinitely with a depth not found on Afrobeat revivalists.
The Ghanaian Rob âRoyâ Raindorf was one of the young musicians who crossed paths with the Orchestre when he was a music student in Cotonou in the late â60s.Â Inspired by classic American soul and funk artists, he developed his craft until traveling to recruit an army band called Mag-2âpossessive of good equipment and a horn sectionâto be his backing band.Â Mag-2 backed Rob on his first two albums, the first of which, Funky Rob Way, is this one. Â In an interesting arrangement given Robâs past training, the band wrote most of the music and even cued Rob to sing, with Rob supervising and sculpting the concept.Â Although Robâs fortunes waned in the face of Disco, his first albums remain standouts.
Generally, Rob outruns Vincent with faster tempos, punchy horn arrangements, and more overtly funky bass partsâequally James Brown and Parliamentâalong with the occasional wacky synth effects to augment his rhythm section.Â Robâs band blankets the grooveâfrom the opening bars of âFunky Rob Way,â his signature song, the band is charging ahead and completely together without a hiccup.Â Thereâs none of the laid-back slouch of the Orchestre, and it seems that Robâs drive for success as an artist worked hand in hand with a desire for a heavier, more propulsive feel in general.Â He slows things down on his second side with ballads like âYour Kiss Stole Me Away,â featuring the aforementioned synth leads, his charmingly thick English accent, and some of the Screaminâ Jay Hawkins spookiness that is his trademark.
Not sure about the extent of liner notes with these two, but both are really burning albums that more than do justice to their exalted (but maybe not their limited) status.