Graded on a Curve: African Scream Contest Vol​.​2–Benin 1963​-​1980

It’s been ten years since Analog Africa unveiled African Scream Contest, an outstanding compilation appropriately subtitled Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s. A decade might be a long time to wait for a follow-up, but it’s a duration that insinuates patience in the accumulation of quality, plus a desire to do right by the music’s creators. Listening to the 14 entries shaping African Scream Contest Vol. 2–Benin 1963​-​1980 supplies proof of due diligence, and it’s out now on CD with a 44-page booklet and on double 140gm vinyl in a gatefold sleeve with an LP-sized 24-page insert. If primo ’70s African sounds are your bag, this set is a piece of designer luggage.

The first installment of African Scream Contest arrived in the midst of a swell upsurge in excavated ’70s funky African band action. The span of ten years has solidified the album as one of the movement’s highlights, and one covering distinct territory. That the ’70s African strand of the reissue impulse has endured rather than proving to be a temporary flurry may blunt the fanfare for this second entry, but only slightly, and the care in assemblage and consistent aural sweetness more than adequately replace any diminished excitement.

“A Min We Vo Nou We” by Les Sympathics de Porto Novo kicks off side one, spilling a fine mess of guitar distortion as prelude to an appealingly tough Afro-rock groove, its progression accented with a strong and lithe guitar solo, nicely non-crap organ, and some jazzy trumpet. Appropriately, it stretches out for a while. Next is an immediate twist, as “Asaw Fofor” by Ignace de Souza & The Melody Aces exudes ska flavor, and as cited in the label’s promo text, vocal smoothness descended from Nat “King” Cole and a structure seemingly derived from the ’60s Batman theme.

It’s a wild, surprising mix (hell, I’m also hearing trace elements of Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk”). “Dja Dja Dja” by Stanislas Tohon is nearer to the horn-laden funky glide one might expect from comps of this era and continent, but it’s all sharply executed, fruitfully extending a la Les Sympathics, while turning up the heat. A hearty sax solo is the icing on its satisfying confection.

“L´enfance” by Elias Akadiri & Sunny Black´s Band is considerably more succinct, with emotionally rich vocals at the fore that indeed occasionally succumb to the outburst of the comp’s title. The instrumentation easily transcends mere backing throughout. Picoby Band D´Abomey’s “Mé Adomina” features a few bird calls, shaken percussion and a prickly lead guitar, and finds the screaming getting a bit more emphatic. That’s cool.

“Nounignon Ma Klon Midji” by Antoine Dougbé swings back toward an unflagging rhythmic foundation accented by horn-section vamps, but it’s most engaging qualities are the lead-backing vocal exchanges, the wah-pedal guitar, and the drummer’s attention to his cymbals. The hi-hat attack continues in the Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou’s disco-funkish “Moulon Devia”; it brings the album further diversity via touches of synthy keyboard. The same group’s “Idavi” provides this edition with a structurally and instrumentally multi-faceted finale.

But the humid “Paulina” by Black Santiago illustrates that if wide-ranging, African Scream Contest 2 doesn’t lose focus. Instead, elements productively recur, as in the hint of Jamaica and the psych-wah-guitar of Lokonon André et Les Volcans’ “Glenon Ho Akue,” while the massive groove of Sebastien Pynasco and L´Orchestre Black Santiago’s “Sadé” dishes another swank trumpet solo. And like much of what’s here, Super Borgou de Parakou’s “Baba L´Oke Ba´Wagbe” nods in the general direction of James Brown-esque funk, a connection emphasized here through, you guessed it, the singer’s wails.

“Gangnidodo” by Cornaire Salifou Michel et L´Orchestre El Rego & ses Commandos offers a wealth of enjoyable organ/ keyboard plus a short little solo on what’s either soprano sax or clarinet, while the unperturbed rhythmic simmer and croon of “How Much Love Naturally Cost” by Gnonnas Pedro and His Dadjes Band is enhanced by a unique timbre of keyboard; again, the threat of monotony is not a problem across these four sides.

As further evidence of quality, Picoby Band D´Abomey, Lokonon André et Les Volcans, Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, and Super Borgou de Parakou all return from the 2008 installment. Altogether, African Scream Contest 2 – Benin 1963​-​1980 is another feather in the lid of one of the globe’s finest African-focused reissue labels.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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