Saturday, August 11, 2007

Viva Voodoo Funk!


If you've been around the African music blogosphere for a while you've probably chanced across an incredible site entitled Voodoo Funk. Here an intrepid German named Frank, or "DJ Soulpusher" (right), recounts his adventures digging up old vinyl recordings across West Africa, with a special emphasis on Benin, which, for a small country, has produced an inordinate amount of wild, funky and just plain out there music. The really great thing is, every month or so Frank posts a mix of his latest discoveries. Sure, they're usually scratchy as all get-out, but that only adds to the overall ambiance. Close your eyes and you can imagine yourself sitting in a dusty, stifling record shack in Cotonou, drinking an ice-cold (or not-so-cold) Star or Gulder or whatever they drink in Benin, just rockin' out.

Now Frank's back from another expedition, and he's promising us not one but three new collections of his discoveries. Moreover, he's gone back and reworked some of his earlier postings, adding more material and more "local color." Here's a passage that particularly impressed me:

"....One day, I decided to visit Bohicon, a town about 70 miles to the North of Cotonou. My guide Didier and I travelled in a bush taxi and upon arrival chartered two motorcycle taxis with local drivers who said they'd know some places where we would find records. The first spot was at a store that sold cassette tapes, records as well as radios and all other sorts of electronic equipment. The records were in two large wooden boxes that also contained swarms of large cockroaches and silverfish. Most paper sleeves had been eaten away partially by insects. The closer we got to the bottom, the lesser intact the sleeves and the thicker the bug droppings inbetween records. The air was thick with dust and and a dark layer of dirt and bug excrement started to cake onto my hands and lower arms. When I was finally through with everything, we jumped on our bikes and zoomed across a labyrinth network of dirt roads finally reaching a big one story building with clay walls.

"The owner of the records store who had accompanied us on a third bike introduced us to a very old man who had some white medicine smeared all over his body and was only covered around the waist with a piece of cloth. The record store owner went into the next room and returned, one after the other, with three very large wicker baskets that were stuffed with stacks of LPs and 45s. At one point, thankfully long before our visit, the baskets had also given a home to some sort of hornet who had chewed away almost all cover sleeves right up to the records, leaving round layer cakes of vinyl, paper and cardboard. I found a few records where even small amounts of vinyl had been gnawed off by those eager little critters. Things got really rough when I hit the bottom of the last basket that contained mostly 45s: The hornets had built chambers and tunnels inbetween the records, using a red, claylike substance that I guessed consisted of chewed up record sleeves, earth and hornet spittle. To make things even more bizarre, large pieces of insect shells were baked into the thick, red crust. Otherwise, the records that I could see the surface of seemed unplayed and the fact that most of them were present in multiple copies supported the idea that this was dead stock. I decided to also buy the claycaked ones, including the embedded insect parts. . ."
Frank indicates, by the way, that two record companies have expressed an interest in producing compilations of this music. Serious reissues of vintage Beninois Afro-funk, remastered from the original recordings. . . it's a dream come true!

'Til Frank gets those new mixes posted, here's a little something to get us all in the mood: Poly-Rythmo de Cotounou, from their LP Zero+Zero = Zero (Star Musique SMP 6019):

Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou - Adin Gbanzon

Update: There is another very interesting anecdote about Benin, and some ultra-rare, unreleased tracks by Poly-Rythmo de Cotouou here.

Update 2: Those three new mixes are online here.

3 comments:

matsuli music said...

Nice one John. I'm in Berlin at the moment and by chance stopped at a record store in Torstrasse. It seems that Frank aka DJ Soulpusher's latest African LPs were for sale. I picked up two of the Gnonnas Pedro, a Syliphone and a Ndardisc LP. Your blog looks great. All the best.
matt

Anonymous said...

Gulder, Star? Ghana! Regards,
Kojo.

John B. said...

Gulder, Star? Nigeria!