Considering the music of the Helsinki-Cotonou and their vibrant recording Fire, Sweat & Pastis; if we can credit African music for giving us our history and the blues, then we can certainly credit the African musician for the funk and the union of drum and bass. And while supplanting the sintir and the ubiquitous konga with the contemporary drum and bass may add to the acoustic loudness, depth and volume that tears it way out of the speakers on stage or might not offer the same warmth and voluptuousness as the original instruments – just as the balafon has a more natural (woody) earthy resonance than the metallic one from the vibraphone. Does this mean that the African musician cannot move forward and modernize? Certainly not; although it will change the nature of the musical aura.
This, however, does not seem to bother the Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble who rely on electric bass and a drumset for their unique and fulsome sound. Moreover, the powerful vocals and percussion that Noël Saïzonou brings to the music create an uniquely authentic flavour of Benin to Fire Sweat & Pastis. Moreover Lionel Loueke and Ali Farka Touré, before him, have long-since brought legitimacy to the electric guitar and put an unique stamp on African blues and so, in a striking way does Janne Halonen who, though he is Finnish, seems to have, in the ‘fire and sweat’ of his time in Benin, assimilated much from the musicians of Cotonou and his vocals on “The Other Side” seem to acknowledge that as they look inward.
Additionally, the electric energy of the brass – trumpet and trombone – and even the softer-voiced saxophones also light a spark under this musical cauldron firing it up by fanning the flames heavenward. Finnish musicians bring their own traditional aesthetic to the gold and rust-coloured earthiness of African music via the Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi. And clearly the wail of the guitar and the ululations of brass and reeds suggest that these musicians have an ear towards that element of the music of the Arctic, which, if one even thinks about it, is a truly awesome thought. However, mining the riches of Fire, Sweat & Pastis one is more apt to find – in “Owé”, :Minin Vodjo” and “Ilé Baba Va” a clearer line to Haiti and to Cuba. The African-Caribbean rhythmic headiness feels the same as this music from Cotonou. And just as viscerally exciting as well.
Track List: 1: The Road Is Long; 2: Djigbo; 3: Minin Vodjo; 4: Owé; 5: Interlude I; 6: Youdjêhon; 7: Ilé Baba Va; 8: Interlude 2; 9: The Other Side; 10: Midjé I; 11: Hope.
Personnel: Noël Saïzonou: percussion, lead vocals (1 – 4, 6, 7, 9, 10), background vocals (1 – 4, 6, 7), voice (11); Janne Halonen: guitars, lead vocals (9), background vocals (1, 2, 4,, 7, 9, 10), keyboards (2, 4), gong (6, 9); Juha Räsänen: drums; Sampo Riskilä: bass; Visa Oscar: keyboards (1, 3 – 9, 11); Mikko Pettinen: trumpet (1 – 4, 6, 7, 9, 10), flugelhorn (11), background vocals (4, 9); Joakim Berghäll: saxophones (1 – 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11); Didier Ahouandjinou: keyboards (2, 10); Jeremi Ahouandjinou: trumpet (2, 10); Aaron Ahouandjinou: trombone (2, 10).