At the heart of Legends of Benin lies the spiral, the curve, the unfinished circle that leads to its replica. The silence at the start of the album is broken by the sound of a drumbeat, but this forward movement is eventually joined by a guitar, which introduces the spiral, and that’s that for the rest of the album—the spiral is there. Percussion shuffles; men shout, “yow!”; keyboards sprout rills of ice; horns proudly serenade singers; but through it all, this insidious curving tickle of noise goes on, always proposing an end and never reaching it. This sets it apart from the guitar chords of rock music, all beginnings and endings, stamping on the stage with one foot and declaring, “I’m here!” The West African guitar fills the middle ground of the song, and there’s nothing the other instruments can do to get away from it. The whole sound, spiral and everything else, comes together in a fat stew, stirring round and round and rising up and up.
// Notes from the Road
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