Two years ago, M.I.A. claimed she `put people on the map who ain’t never seen a map.’ But Samy Ben Redjeb, founder of Analog Africa records, highlights artists that hail from places most westerners probably couldn’t even locate on a map. His label has released a handful of compilations celebrating pop music from Togo and Benin, released between the 1960s and ’80s, the latest, Legends of Benin, an example of the amazing and vibrant sounds that Redjeb has unearthed, handled with the utmost care.
Legends of Benin‘s tracklist comprises 14 songs from four composers: Gnonnas Pedro, Antoine Dougbé, El Rego et Ses Commandos and Honoré Avolonto. While these four artists are essentially unknown in the United States, or even outside of their home country, for that matter, the material here is eye-opening and engaging, with one pleasant surprise popping up after another. And it should be noted that each composer’s style is unique, making for a diverse selection of styles throughout the compilation’s 14 tracks.
The album kicks off with the stunning funk repetition of “Dadje Von O Von Non,” by Gnonnas Pedro & His Dadjes Band, an almost motorik cycle of popping bass, scratchy guitar riffs and repeated vocal mantras. El Rego et Ses Commondos’ “Feeling You Got” takes a completely different path, recalling a more garaged-up version of the ’60s funk of James Brown or the Isley Brothers, or for a more modern comparison, King Khan and the Shrines. And then Antoine Dougbé sets a new direction in motion with the almost ska-like (by way of highlife) “Honton Soukpo Gnon.” Honoré Avolonto & Orchestre Poly-Rythmo crank out some hypnotic psychedelic funk with “Tin Lin Non,” a definite highlight here. And on “Ya Mi Ton Gbo,” Antoine Dougbé et Orchestre Poly-Rythmo turn out a catchy, soulful anthem with big, bright horns and a solid organ throb. In fact, replace the lyrics with Portuguese, and it’s practically an Os Mutantes song.
The rarity of the material on Legends of Benin is enough to make exciting, but the diverse range of passionate and mesmerizing sounds throughout is enough to keep it in a regular rotation. Legends of Benin is one of the best musical history lessons one will come across this year.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.