Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo: Madjafalao

After years of lighting up the night, Benin's oldest big band lets the sunshine in.

Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo


Label: Because Music
US Release Date: 2016-10-21
UK Release Date: 2016-10-21

Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo spent the better part of the 1970s putting out the smokiest nightclub jams in all of West Africa, full of fast beats and beautiful, dirty funk. In 2011, Cotonou Club proved that the group could still get down. Five years later, we have Madjafalao, a smooth album with a more mellow groove, a finely aged wine with less bite than previous releases, but more finesse than ever. Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre has worked hard to get on top, and Madjafalao is a gentle, well-deserved ride for Africa's oldest active orchestra.

Warmth is key to the comforting mix of styles and sounds on Madjafalao, an element that makes everything come together in a delicious, hearty stew for the soul. Nothing is ever too harsh or too modern, and an analog feel permeates the entire record (which is, fittingly, available on vinyl as well as CD). The title track opens up the album with a vivid array of brass and a call-and-response chorus, a beach-ready take on highlife ready for a tropical vacation. It's a feel-good start to a feel-good album, one that proceeds to draw on Afrobeat, rumba, funk, and everything in between -- the polyrhythmic quality referenced in the group's full name.

Steady midtempo beats run strong on each song; nothing gets too fast or furious, and that gives all the members of the group ample chance to show off their formidable skills. On “Africa”, these skills are at their peak, as is the orchestra's versatility. Modern Afrobeat drums lead the way as traditional Beninese percussion falls perfectly in step, and effortless guitars recapture that vital energy that was key to Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre in its youth and has kept it exciting until now.

That particular cool vibe of decades past is only a tiny piece of this new record, though, and comparing Madjafalao to the orchestra's earlier recordings is perplexing. Madjafalao is sunny and well-rounded, lacking the sensual mystique and sharp cutting edge that used to echo through the Vodou ritual-influenced sounds of 1970s-era singles like “Gbeti Ma Djro” and “Ako Ba Ho”. Madjafalao is a different creature entirely, a safe and lofty pedestal on which Vincent Ahéhéhinnou can let loose his incomparable vocals with a sweet vulnerability and pure expression alongside his faithful bandmates. Together, they make sounds both earthen and angelic on Madjafalao, and while the funk may burn slower, the passion is wholly uncompromised. That, in the end, is the most important thing: regardless of changes, regardless of how time has shaped and softened the group, this is a soulful mélange of the band's decades-long musical experience, and each member pours out their whole heart right into it. This is good music, no qualifications necessary.

In French, Tout-Puissant means "all-powerful", and if there's one thing Le Orchestre is in any incarnation, it's that: bright, unstoppable, full of heat and love. After years of lighting up the night, on Madjafalao, the group finally lets the sunshine in, and it shines brightly on ten healing tracks that encompass vast swaths of West Africa and serve as a good reminder that there is still sweetness in the world today.





By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.


Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.


L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.


Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.


Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.


Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.


West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".


PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.