Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou: The Bariba Sound

Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou: The Bariba Sound

Analog Africa may have only released 11 records, but this small German-based label has presented to the world some remarkable recordings, many from obscure musical hot spots in Africa.

This album is typical of Analog’s output, and as well as providing some fine music, the liner notes sheds some interesting facts about the label’s inspired founder – Samy Ben Redjeb.

Ben Redjeb’s passion for what must be considered a niche aspect of African music was born through his career choice. Living in Frankfurt, he took a job with a German airline.

This allowed him to travel to many West African cities, and between flights he would hunt down vinyl records of local bands. Redjeb tells us: “The records I found with every journey were first stocked in my living room and, after a few years, I had to start storing them in my bedroom.

“People are always looking for something different – music with a twisted intonation; sounds that make you travel by the simple fact that they are played in a bizarre, remarkable, surprising and unconventional manner,” Ben Redjeb writes in this album’s liner notes, adding, “Super Borgou, I believe, is just about as distinctively different as it gets.”

Yet, in fact, Super Borgou is just one element of the Islamic Funk Belt of West Africa (specifically Ghana, Togo and Benin) that includes, amongst others, bands such as Uppers International (Ghana), Orchestre Abass and the Black Devils (Togo), and Benin compatriots Anassoua Jazz.

Super Borgou represent the Bariba peoples, who originated from Kwara state of northwest Nigeria and now dominate the Borgou department of Benin – with the market city of Parakou serving as the department’s capital. Modern African music in Parakou owes its very existence to Super Borgou and especially to the father of the band’s founder and leader, Moussa Mama.

A family affair

Moussa Mama outlined what happened in an interview with Ben Redjeb. “I’m a descendant of a long tradition of blacksmiths originating from Okuta, in western Nigeria,” he explained.

“My father, Alpha Sekou Mama, was a blacksmith and a goldsmith. Before my birth, he had left for Accra to look for work and came back a few years later with music – highlife in particular. He is the man who brought modern music to us.

“He formed Orchestre Sinpam, the very first orchestra of northern Benin. Youngsters from the region heard about it and started flocking to my dad’s house to ask for lessons. Sometimes they would stay just few days, sometimes a month, sometimes longer. Then they would go back to their villages and form their own groups.”

Super Borgou started as simply a cover band playing Congolese rumba music, but they developed their own musical identity by reinventing  and adapting traditional songs and rhythms.

As this CD reveals, in the 1970s they began to celebrate their African traditions – alongside melodies of an Islamic ilk – in a totally modern and exhilarating way.

Analog Africa’s Orchestre Super Borgou anthology opens a new chapter of previously lost and now resurrected Afro sounds. Analog Africa claims to have remastered the music to recreate the energy of their legendary high-octane live performances. With the full-colour booklet, the story of this remarkable ensemble and the traditions of the people of Northern Benin is documented for the first time.

They are a rare gem amongst African music styles, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ben Redjeb for bringing Super Borgou’s music to world attention.

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Written by African Business Magazine

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