Various Artists "African Scream Contest: Raw and Psychedelic Sounds from Benin and Togo"
Analogue Africa is a German label that specializes in locating and legally licensing long lost gems from primarily West African artists. “African Scream Contest” focuses on the 70’s music scene in Benin (officially the Republic of Benin) and Togo (the Togolese Republic). Both small French-speaking countries sandwiched between Nigeria and Ghana. The musical heritage of the area is rich and quite convoluted, due in part to the colonization/westernization of the area by the French. To the Western ear, the music on this disc can easily be referenced as a rock/funk/soul conglomeration, which has then been fused with a certain level of exoticism. Though the music can easily be taken on its own, the compilation really functions as a snapshot into a specific time and place where understanding the roots of the music becomes a rather enriching addition to listening. Being that I am nowhere near an expert, or for that fact even a novice, on the musicology of the area, I will, at this time rely on the label description in order to summarize:
Like most modern music in French-speaking West African West African countries, the music of Benin and Togo was influenced by a few main musical currents: Cuban, Congolese and local traditional music, as well as Chanson Française. Additionally, the geographic location of Benin and Togo… exposed Beninese and Togolese musicians to highlife music. The cultural and spiritual riches of traditional Beninese music had an immense impact on the sound of Benin’s modern music. Benin is the birthplace of Vodun (or, as it is known in the West, Voodoo), and some of the rhythms used during traditional rituals – sakpato, sato, agbadja, tchenkoumé and many others – were fused to soul and Latin musics early as the mid 60’s and early 70’s and later to funk. That fusion is the essence of this compilation.
The vignette offered on “African Scream Contest” gives a glimpse into a rough and gritty musical environment where people are simply coming together to make music for the sake of making music. The atmosphere is fueled with the energy of the newly introduced Western sounds but holds on to a certain level of indigenous traditionalism and pride. With off-kilter or questionable
musicianship, cheap equipment and recording means these musicians were able to create something that was distinctly their own. Forming a musical gestalt that finds its way thorough all the bands featured on this album. At its odder moments the music on “African Scream Contest” can bring to mind the rough and tumble musings of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band or the hypnotic grooves of Can. This really plays out in the track by Orchestre Super Jheevs Des Paillotes’ “Ya Nan Lon An” which begins with a jazzy rhythm that moves into the album’s most punk moments. But it really must be stated that James Brown should be seen as one of the primary influences on these musicians, as most the tracks embody some form of garage funk with distinctly unshakable grooves that will have the most rhythmically deficient moving. One can hear many a lead singer mimicking Brown’s shrieks and howls throughout.
Essentially “African Scream Contest” is such a great record with a cohesiveness of sound that makes it hard (for these western ears) to differentiate the idiosyncrasies of each band, and the fact that the quality of each track is so high. Regardless of who’s playing it’s quite an irresistible record to put on and simply groove away to. 9/10 -- Cory Card (15 April, 2009)