The loping interplay of euphonium, trumpet, sax and trombone on 'Segala', and the...
Jon Lusk 2004
Wedged between Togo and Nigeria, Benin is a small country at the heart of West Africa, best known to world music fans for its one truly international star, Angélique Kidjo. But since the 1998 release of their debut mini-album, the Gangbé Brass Band have been presenting audiences abroad with another much rootsier side of Benin's musical culture.
In the process, they've also been generating a growing word-of-mouth buzz among those lucky enough to catch their occasional colourful appearances on Europe's summer festival circuit: the result of a long association with French fusionists Lo'Jo. But how could a ten-man brass band dressed in gorgeous African robes fail to make an impact?
'Whendo' is their third release to date, and it is the most polished. Although half the original members have been replaced, their musical gumbo is still based on the spirited call-and-response vocals and polyrhythms of Benin's traditional "voudoun" music and neighbouring influences, which they have married with jazzy brass. The band have tightened up considerably over the years, with sharper vocal harmonies, improved recording quality and the brass increasingly (though still not completely) in tune.
While the voices and sometimes tonal percussion leave you in no doubt about their West African roots, the horns echo African military bands and European/American brass bands. The loping interplay of euphonium, trumpet, sax and trombone on "Segala", and the glorious swagger of Oblemou wouldn't sound out of place at a Mardi Gras in New Orleans (a city that has its own "voodoo" roots, which arose from its historical connection to Haitian "vodou"). And of course, that tradition began in very much the same part of West Africa that Gangbé Brass band hail from. What goes around comes around, as they say.
On "Glessi", talking drum and bustling rhythms nod to the Nigerian juju cranked out by the likes of King Sunny Adé. "Remember Fela" (reprised from their first CD) is an affectionate tribute to Nigeria's infamous Afrobeat originator, Fela Kuti. Increasing the variety on "Awhan-Ho" and the spiritually themed "Jesu Ohun", they ditch the brass section entirely, using only shakers, cowbells and drums to accompany their voices. It's obvious that with this many fine singers, they could always make it as a gospel choir if they decide to hang up their horns for good.