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Orchestre Super Borgou De Parakou - The Bariba Sound 1970-1976

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Artist: Orchestre Super Borgou De Parakou

Album: The Bariba Sound 1970-1976

Label: Analog Africa

Review date: Oct. 22, 2012

The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s rise from being nearly forgotten in their homeland of Benin to globetrotting heroes of the World Music touring circuit is an irresistible success story. But the Orchestre Super Borgou De Parakou, whose name celebrates their roots in central Benin’s capital of cotton cultivation, bears the distinction of having beaten Poly-Rythmo in a battle of the bands. It happened in 1972, when the two combos faced each other in the finals of a national competition. Poly-Rythmo might have better pleased the crowd, but they did so by playing music that flaunted its Cuban and Congolese influences. The judges wanted something home grown, and Super Borgou stuck to songs rooted in Dendi and Bariba folklore. They won the match, and the government sent them to Berlin the following year; Poly-Rythmo wouldn’t make it out of Africa for another 37 years.

The contents of this record show that if you’d caught them at home, Super Borgou would have sounded every bit as internationally aware as Poly-Rythmo. For every amplified traditional groove like the rugged “Aske” or the jubilant “Ko Guere,” there’s an Afro-beat workout like “Dadon Gabou Yo Sa Be No. 2” that could’ve gotten them booked into a Lagos nightclub, or an ocean-straddling, Cuban-rooted rhythm like “Bori Yo Se Mon Baani.” Turns out that Parakou is a crossroads as well as an agricultural service center, and the most ethnically diverse city in Benin. A band that wanted to work there had to please everyone, and Super Borgou were up to the task. Their sound was pretty stripped down, usually a small battery of drummers, bass, a rough-edged guitar, and a little overdriven organ or some horns on a few tracks.

At the time, electric instruments were still pretty new in Parakou, which probably has a bit to do with both the exuberance and the simplicity of the playing. Aside from bandleader Moussa Mama’s playful guitar and organ solos, the playing here adheres to essentials; it’s more about locking in and bearing down than showing off. Mama also handled most of the singing; he may have favored local tongues over some European lingua franca, but the way he wove boxer-like in and out of the rhythms has a universal appeal that reaches out across decades and makes you want to know what the guy had to say. You can find out, in greater detail than usual; alongside the usual in-depth interviews with band members and personal remembrances of the vinyl search by compiler Samy Ben Redjeb, each song is completely translated here. Orchestre Super Borgou’s messages to their audience emphasize live-right proverbs over expressions of romance, but what comes through is their accomplishment and enthusiasm. The Bariba Sound 1970-1976 is another winning set from Analog Africa, a label that hasn’t screwed up yet.

By Bill Meyer

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