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T.P. Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Barbican

September 28, 2009
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First things, first; I was there. I. WAS. THERE.

This was a JFK moment. Where were you when Orchestre Poly Rythmo had their first ever UK concert? Those of us lucky enough to have got tickets witnessed something special. Not only was it band leader’s Clement Melome’s birthday (cue the whole audience singing Happy Birthday to him), but it was also the last gig of an European tour and you could tell the band were loving the whole experience.

Melome is joined in the horn section by Augustin Pierre Loko on sax and Vital Assaba on trumpet but this is no mere horn-heavy Afrofunk band. This is so much more. The bass lines of Gustave Bentho would be welcome worldwide by every audience and by most bands – he was an inspiration and a joy to watch and hear. He and drummer Bonaventure Didolanvi kept the rhythm strong throughout the night, which meant the flourishes to the sound could be added to by the twin guitars of Maximus Ajanohoun and Philibert Agbahoungba and the electric organ of Degbo Moise Loko. It all goes together to become some sort of West African James Brown-inspired trance, but on a huge scale. As I friend has commented; ‘what a massive sound they produce..MASSIVE!!!’ 

Track recognition can be a bit hard when the band speaks very little English and they have been going for over 40 years (their back catalogue must be ridiculously large), but tracks I did know and which sounding fantastic included the funky Aihe Ni Kpe We and the infectious Ne Te Faches Pas.

Hopefully, there are some people still left in the BBC who have music as their primary goal and not just ‘target audiences’, because in an ideal world Orchestre Poly Rythmo should be booked in to do a Gilles Peterson World Wide live special at Abbey Road today and then they should be doing Later.. Live with Jools Holland tomorrow night. That way their talent would get the exposure it so richly deserves.

And if there is any justice, they should go on to the festival circuit next year – Pete Isaac should book them to do a Eden Project special for Jelly Jazz, they would destroy the Big Chill, wow the Flow Festival and probably get an awful time slot at Glastonbury, but everyone who sees them will be charmed and impressed and left in no little awe of these eleven middle aged men from West Africa who last night ripped the normally staid middle class Barbican audience a new hole. 

Props must go to the Barbican for booking them (and for booking the excellent Gnawa Home Songs who supported them) but also to Soundway and Analogue Africa (from both of which you can buy compilations) for bringing them the attention they so massively deserve.

In the words of Pinglewood – awesome!

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