Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Yet Another Road Trip Through Benin

February 5th 2008

After one week of Voodoo ceremonies, beach and some relaxed digging around Ouidah, Abomey, Porto Novo and Benin, my friend Landry and me headed up north for Natitingou and Parakou.

Frequently we pass grotesquely deformed car wrecks at the side of the road and other reminders of how dangerous African roads can be...

But no road could possibly be too long or too treacherous, if ultimately it leads you to such a sweet old man as Mr. Theodore who upon viewing his dusty stack of records began to indulge in memories of girls he had danced with, bottles of Sodabi he had drunk and sadly also the many, many records he used to have but which with time got stolen from him on various parties while he was passed out in some corner on too much booze or getting busy with one of the ladies.

On the way back south we were in for a bad surprise.
We had hit the road early one Sunday morning and had left Parakou before dawn. About one hour into our day-long trip, we noticed a growing number of cars racing towards us at breakneck speed. They all had plastic envelopes with toll papers stuck to the inner side of the wind shields and big, black and yellow bumper sticker license plates. Often in a row of two or even three, they frequently forced us to hit the breaks and steer off the edge of the road in sheer terror. With every minute they became more and they approached us like a swarm of angry wasps. Things calmed down a bit after a toll booth had backed up all oncoming traffic. Waiting cars were lining up for at least 10 miles. Some drivers passed the backed up traffic by using our lane, flashing their lights to make us quit the road. Local police was obviously paid off and completely disregarded the entire madness.

Cotonou seems to be most favorite port for West African automobile importers. Mainly Nigerian companies buy whole ship loads of used cars from early 1970s construction trucks to all sorts of SUVs, 1980's VW Golfs or Mercedes limousines from last year. These cars then get transported in bizarrely huge convoys, driven by rented drivers, -rumor has it most of them on on drugs -across the border to Lagos in Nigeria or up north to Burkina Faso. What we had to face that morning must have been at least a couple of thousand cars. It was surreal. West African traffic is already a strange experience and the common disregard for one's own safety let alone the well-being of others as frequently displayed by bush taxi drivers is just baffling. But this was something else. This was African Kamikaze traffic on steroids. Some of these cars were wrecks and were being towed by other vehicles while going just as fast as everybody else. Some became wrecks on the way. We soon stopped counting the number of accidents we saw.

Anyway, we got back to Cotonou in good health and celebrated accordingly with pate mais, cow's feet in tomato sauce and plenty of ice cold Beninoise beer.

Here are some of the records that we brought back with us:
Mixes will be coming up shortly, click on images for better view!


Anonymous said...

schocking with all those nice records & so many with those fantastic poly rythmo
really wish I had that 1 with tidiane kone what a nice sleeve where he has both trumpet & saxophone Im droodling /mats

Anonymous said...

Glad you're back. Thanks for posting all these great sounds, record covers and pictures. Benin was my first time in Africa (ca. 2004) and it was a truly mindblowing experience. I could kick (hit! stab!) myself for not buying more cassettes (or asking around for old vinyl...). Thanks for including some tracks by less 'in demand' bands like Super Star de Ouidah and Anassua Jazz - it's much appreciated. Afro funk hardliners have no reason to complain I think - a couple of years ago it seemed the only golden age popular African music being reissued was afrobeat/afrofunk (almost ad nauseam). Anyway - I'm looking forward like crazy to that Benin funk comp on Analog Africa - good to see some collector types put their vinyl collections to good use ... I often wonder what happens with those records (yours amongst others) that fetch three digit prices on eBay... Anyway, a while ago in the comments section you kinda shrugged your shoulders at the suggestion to write a book of your record hunting trips, well, how about a photo book of West-African record cover art? Not some huge coffee table affair no one can afford (always jammin' econo!) - something modest in Taschen's Icons series would do just fine. I'm calling Taschen tomorrow first thing in the morning! ;-) Tom

Anonymous said...

The used car guys - far from bribing the cops to look the other way - actually get armed escorts from the military and national police, and the whole thing is major source of tax income / port fees for the country.

One on hand, they're not allowed to pass the lead escort - so it sets something of a maximum on their total speed. On the other hand, the escort vehicle is usually a nice, new mitsu SUV going 120K flat out with lights and siren....

Gotta love it - but you do learn to avoid traveling southbound on sundays if you at all can.

Cyril said...

Hello Frank, happy to see you back. Nice digg - especially this rare 45T !!! African Kamikaze Traffic on Steroids could be a cool mix name ;)

Frank said...

Hey Tom,

I'm trying to put as many pictures and stories up on the blog... I'm not quite sure that a book could do much more an African Cover Art book... maybe but you know, all those LP cover books I've so far seen always ended up in the dollar bin after a few months.

I'm also looking forward to the Analog Africa comp. It does have a monster track list.

I've never sold a single African record on eBay by the way... I plan on putting these records to use by playing them in clubs (maybe even on the radio...) and use the spares to trade in more records.

Joe said...

Awesome assortment of LPs there, Frank. I'm especially curious to know what's on that one from Niger in the first image. That's a new one on me. Interesting Fela cover with the Afro-rock label on it too. Also a huge fan of the few Antoine Dougbe tracks I've heard.

What I love about these LP cover showcases of yours, aside form imagining the sounds in the grooves behind the covers, is the way it highlights just how great some of the graphic design was. there were obviously limited resources, but so many of them look so great. Love the type-setting on the Melome Clement album, for example.

Anonymous said...

Frank, I went straight up to Taschen HQ this morning - they released the hounds. It seemed like a good idea... Sorry about the eBay thing, I must've gotten you mixed up with other people. Anyway, being some half-assed kind of collector myself, everyone who prefers to blow his money on records rather than on some shiny new car or something receives my full blessing... - Tom

ceverett said...

Frank, please take the time to do a good job archiving these disks to a high resolution lossless format, and putting copies in a safe place. or several safe places.

I don't care whether you share the music or release it on your own label, but it seems to me that if
that if your collection gets stolen or goes up in flames, much of it might be music that's lost forever.