Among the labels reissuing this material is Analog Africa. Samy Ben Redjeb, the imprint's head, has traveled many times to the continent, collecting thousands of rare pressings from regional bands that never garnered the international attention afforded Fela Kuti or Tony Allen. Last year, Analog Africa began compiling Redjeb's extensive finds into lovingly packaged collections that came with highly informative liner notes that introduced an Africa that never managed even scant connections to Europe. African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s was the first to hit shelves, and it was a revelation of just how much undiscovered greatness is still out there.
Now comes The Vodoun Effect, a set that focuses entirely on Benin's Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, who recorded extensively over a thirteen-year period running from 1970 to 1983. The band blended James Brown's marathon funk jams with Benin's potent voodoo heritage, which was born in Benin and hugely influenced the polyrhythms from the area.
The Vodoun Effect is the first of two envisioned collections for the Orchestre. Though the eventual Volume 2 will reprise the group's recordings for Albarika Store—their official label—Volume 1 collects the numerous rare cuts they amassed between 1972 and 1975 as they secretly recorded for fly-by-night engineers. Many of these tracks originally came out in pressings of less than a thousand copies and weren't recorded under the most pristine conditions, but sound quality doesn't prove to be much of a deterrent here. Rather, what makes this collection so essential is just how good this bunch of musicians could be while recording off-the-cuff jams to help their studio friends make a little extra cash. This is fully-formed African soul music, rich and diverse, influenced in part by James Brown's African tours, but equally by Sato, a regional poly-rhythmic blend, and Sakpata, a rhythm associated with Vodoun that was used to protect people from smallpox. The band is as infectious as it is timeless.
Benin hasn't gotten as much attention as Nigeria in the excavations currently under way by labels like Soundway, Strut and Honest Jon's, but The Vodoun Effect proves that there is much to be learned from the country's musical heritage. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou is every bit as tight and funky as Africa 70 or Egypt 80, but with its own unique signatures, and fans of those groups will no doubt lap up every moment of this deeply fascinating incarnation of early club music.