Orchester Super Borgou De Parakou - The Bariba Sound 1970-76
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Orchester Super Borgou De Parakou
The Bariba Sound 1970-76
Analog Africa ( www.analogafrica.com)

Analog Africa label owner Samy Ben Redjeb took advantage of his time working for a German Airline company. He made stopovers, as well as specific visits all over East and West Africa, and shipped tons of records home to Frankfurt. In '05, just a few days into his first trip to Benin, with the intention of securing licensing for music from that country's Albarika Store- home to the Orchestre Poly Ritmo among others- he first encountered the music of Super Borgou, from the country's Northeast. Having had his mind sufficient blown by the band's distorted, nearly unhinged mix of fuzzed out organ, chugging Bariba rhythms and staccato hunks of guitar, he not only included a track on the third AA compilation, he also managed an interview with the band's leader and guitarist, Moussa Mama. The interview, printed in this collection's booklet, was most fortunate as Mama, nicknamed "Franco" in reference the great Congolese guitar master, passed away two years later.

As it turns out, Bariba and Dendi rhythms spread from Northern Benin west through Togo and Ghana, and these patterns, mixed with sounds coming up from the southern most port cities, might explain bands such as Northern Ghana's Uppers International or Togo's Black Devils. Whatever the case, Super Borgou did stints in Niamey, Niger and Lagos, Nigeria, soaking up everything from Fela's early Afro-beat to Congolese rumba. By the time they started making singles for Albarika, they sounded like little else the continent had ever produced. They could and did record some fine examples of Congolese guitar-driven grooves such as this compilation's "Adiza Claire." However, they typically sounded like some freakish cross between southern Benin's own Poly Ritmo and Ghana's short-lived Psychedelic Aliens. But even that comparison is unfair. Sure, they were raw, but they were snare drum tight as well, shifting tempos and rhythms with ease over the course of three-minute singles, and belting out lyrics in Dendi and Bariba. "Gandigui," for example, opens with what sounds almost like a standard 60s soul breakdown, before dropping into a thick, distorted guitar riff that anchors scraped percussion and vocals for a brief moment before sailing off into a solo. The riff returns, the tune seems to fall apart and then they double the tempo and alter the riff just long enough to get the groove established before another brief solo. Vocal harmonies skate over the groove just before it fades out. On "Guessi Guere Guessi," an organ jabs out the intro, fades down into a mix of clattering percussion, guitars and vocals, before re-emerging a minute later for a solo, backed only by the percussion. Borgou manages to sound utterly frantic and porch-swing relaxed simultaneously.

Of course, what makes this collection work so well is Redjeb's painstaking, multi-month approach to deep listening in order to check and see which tunes continue to identify themselves as compilation material. It's his ears that give the collection its consistency as well as its variety. He has a way of distilling a pile of tracks down into the utterly necessary, and with this collection, number 11 for the label, he has without a doubt outdone himself. But with material as powerful as Super Borgou's, that shouldn't come as a surprise. - Bruce Miller

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