The Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo

    The Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo of Cotonou stems from the melodies of a certain MÉLOMÉ CLÉMENT, Orchestra leader of the group who, at a very young age, enjoyed performing some recitals with his neighbor ESKILL LOHENTO. It is the GG Vikey songs, a famous composer and performer who faded away recently in Benin, that have given to the commonly called MéloClem or Mélo, the desire to compose.

    The first group came to life in 1966 with, besides Mélomé and Eskill, Joseph «Vicky» Amenoudji in singing, Francis Hoessou on the drums and Soumassou Nestor on percussion.Very rapidly, the team were produced under the name «Sunny Black’s Band» led by Creppy Wallace. Mélomé

    Clément was then appointed Leader of the group.

    After the adventure of Sunny Black’s Band, which provided the group with a certain notoriety but little income, thanks to Angelina, the team restarted onits own and managed to finance the instruments by «Poly Disco»; a record shop, which wanted to give the name of «Poly Orchestra» to the group.Mélomé would have preferred to call his band «Orchestre Poly-Rythmo» in 1968. Other symbolic figures such as singer Vincent Ahehehinnou, saxopho-nist Peter Loko, bassist Gustave Bentho nicknamed «Titiou», and both guitarists Bernard «Papillon» Zoundegnon and MaximusIf Adjadohoun joined the group then.

    Albarika Store wanted at all costs the key song of Poly-Rythmo at that time : «Angelina»,a title composed with the Sunny Black’s Band and that had known a far-reaching success in all Africa. On the B-side of the vinyl, including Angelina, Mélomé slipped a new unknown song : Gbeti Madjro. This title, with its very particular frantic pace, forever marked Benin and the entire Africa and became the mark of the group. It was covered multiple times in multiple albums. The power of Eskill’s singing, his cries coming from another world, the twitchy brass of the rhythms of the drum and bass made the notoriety of the group.

    Poly-Rythmo counted up nearly 500 45 tours, an impressive figure due to the multitude of African producers wanting Poly-Rythmo to appear in their music libra-ry. For a long time, the band recorded new songs and albums every month using the new technology of the time, the famous Nagra, available in Cotonou radios. Nonetheless, the band knew unfortunate adventures. Especially in Libya, the group, going there for a festival, were suspected of hiding alcohol in their instruments, the latter were thrown out the window by the police.

    In 1975, after a transition period, the revolution that had erupted in 1972 in Benin, allowed for a Marxist / Leninist regime. Times became so much more complicated especially for artists. Bars were obliged to close at 23h, the police roamed the cities and constantly checked customers. The orchestra then had a lot of trouble finding places to play in.

    They continued their adventure outside the country, often in Abidjan, but the years from 80 to 90 mostly saw them bring their reputation and musical class closer to the regime, thus, becoming almost the official orchestra of Benin.

    It was not until 2009 that Elodie Maillot, a France Culture journalist, dis-covered an old vinyl and decided to go looking for them. At an unannounced concert in Cotonou for the National Day, she realized the power of these voodoo grandpas. Following this, an album, Cotonou Club appeared in 2011, and two tours were made around the entire world, on the biggest stages of American jazz and the big European festivals.

    In this last album distributed by Universal, we especially find a featuring with the well-known rock band Franz Ferdinand. It may be noted that other big names accompanied Poly-Rythmo in their musical adven-ture: Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, Angelique Kidjo.On the night of December 17 to 18, 2012, Mélomé Clément died of a respiratory insufficiency. The group was in mourning, but thanks to his numerous compositions combining salsa and funk with traditional voodoo rhythms (Sato Sakpata etc), the Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo continues to enchant all of Africa as well as the other continents respecting the memory of Mélomé Clément : «Even if people die, we must move on...»

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