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Acid Jazz reissues legendary Cotonou Poly‑Rythmo Orchestra

Immerse yourself in the Beninese groove of the 70s with Segla, a rare album by the almighty orchestra, originally recorded for the Beninese label Albarika.

More than 42 years of existence and more than 500 records in the collection, no less! The band, popular throughout West Africa, first embodied the euphoria of the years of independence, the Revolution, multipartyism and liberalism, before succumbing to the Western hype of vinyl re-editions. Poly-Rythmo‘s tracks have been enjoying a revival in recent years with regular re-releases on trendy labels such as Luakabop, Soundway, Analog Africa, and the latest, Acid Jazz. Yet the original orchestra records are rare, untraceable even. 

Although Poly-Rythmo has played with Fela, Manu Dibango and Miriam Makeba, and even hosted morning sessions for Beninese people on the national radio, the band had never left Africa. Indeed, Poly-Rythmo almost perished into oblivion without ever returning to the studios … Until 2007, when a French journalist, Élodie Maillot, tracked down the musicians in Cotonou for an interview broadcast on France Culture as well as off the air. A subsidiary question lingered: could she help realize their secret dream … to play outside Africa once in their lives? 

Back in Paris a few months later, the journalist learnt that Scottish musicians Franz Ferdinand dreamt of playing with the Almighty Poly-Rythmo Orchestra of Cotonou, and admired their long career, distorted sound and unstoppable groove . From threads to voodoo needles, from new passports to collected instruments, the visas were finally established, and they arrived in August 2009. All the original members of the band were still alive, and took the road to Europe! The events on the program: the opening of the Jazz à la Villette festival, the Barbican in London, the Paradiso in Amsterdam, etc … The challenge was taken well beyond expectations and the tours followed one another. The Poly-Rythmo undoubtedly received blessing from the oracles to rise from its ashes and journey throughout the world. But while the orchestra has renown, the record itself is the real rarity. Segla was originally released in 1978 under the blunt title ALS059, and probably without cover. It is the collector’s holy grail! 

Segla is out now via Acid Jazz (vinyl edition available on November 16, 2020).

Listen to Poly-Rythmo in our Afro Groove Party playlist on Spotify and Deezer.