Gangbé Brass Band: Whendo

Deanne Sole

Gangbé Brass Band sound like a group of men leading a parade down the road with streamers flying over their heads and the sun shining.

Gangbé Brass Band


Label: World Village
US Release Date: 2005-10-11
UK Release Date: 2005-10-10
Amazon affiliate

If the map of the world were redrawn with areas scaled so that their sizes matched their musical reputations then West Africa would take up a fair chunk of the planet. Senegal and Mali would occupy most of the chunk, Nigeria would be a solid block with "Kuti" printed boldly across the middle, and Benin would be a tiny almost-unnoticed sliver with "Angelique Kidjo" handwritten in wobbly neon lettering along the edge. Right now she's the only Beninese musician who's internationally well known. The Gangbé Brass band are not going to change that (she's easily-digested pop, suitable for dinner parties; they're jumpy, loud, and probably best heard live) but good for them for trying, if only because it will mean that the musical life of an ignored country can now be associated with something other than a well-cropped, terribly fit woman in zebra leotards.

Gangbé draw inspiration from several different places. The hammering vigour of their drumming is pure African, and serves as a reminder that the Yoruba civilisations of Benin and the surrounding areas are an important source of vodou ritual. The melodies they play over the drumming sound sometimes like American marching bands, sometimes like swing or jazz, and sometimes like the Latin rhythms that have made a strong impact on popular African music in the past.

The idea of the brass ensemble itself goes back to the military bands that travelled abroad with the European powers in the days when France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, and Portugal were vying with one another to see how much of the planet they could stick flags into. (Queen Victoria won in the end, but the world's tuba manufacturers have done quite nicely out of it as well.) The trumpets and trombones glide, the metal bell percussion darts, and the drums bear them up with an undercarriage of thunder.

The band members sing, too, in French and several indigenous languages, a call-and-response chant that often addresses the audience with moral lessons. "Peoples' good deeds in life are always rewarded, their bad actions too. You can't buy happiness or kindness at the market," explain the English-language notes to one song, and, "Man's abuse of power and greed increase the sorrow of orphans," remark the notes to another.

One song, "Remember Fela", is described as a tribute to "our spiritual musical father, Fela Anikulapokuti". In hindsight it makes sense that Fela Kuti should have been one of their influences, since his native Nigeria is immediately next door to Benin -- first nation on the right -- but I wouldn't have picked it if they hadn't told me. They have saxophones in common, yes, but Gangbé's sound is more joyous, more sprawling, and less bossy than his Afrobeat. Fela Kuti sounds like a single man giving a speech in front of a crowd but the Gangbé Brass Band sound like a group of men leading a parade down the road with coloured streamers flying over their heads and the sun shining. Balloons sail upward, the trumpets mambo together, the men sing, "A-fri-ca, vié!" and everyone is happy.

That openness, which much be an asset in their live shows, (and online reports, most of them reprinted from newspapers, confirm that the Gangbé Brass Band are a dynamic live act) also makes Whendo a shaggy album without a strong focus. It has memorable moments rather than memorable songs. The beginning of the first track is unexpectedly abrupt, and every time the CD reaches the end my brain is left hanging for a few moments in the silence afterwards, wondering, "Wait, is it over? Or are they just pausing?" This is an album that will be best appreciated by people who have seen the band live and can use the music to help them relive the evening; and heard by the rest of us as a promise of what we might enjoy if they ever came our way.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.