“In the band’s dizzyingly gorgeous horn lines, rolling vamps carry sunny African chorales, and polyrhythmic voodoo grooves host harmonies that slide in all directions at once. The music just plain sings.” —New York Times
Hailing from the West African nation of Benin, the eight-piece Gangbé Brass Band (the sound of metal) assembles trumpets, saxes, trombones, sousaphone, and metal bell percussion that exemplify the amalgam of musical inspiration percolating in the region. Their horn arrangements belie a gamut of influences, from Nigerian Afrobeat and American jazz to Cuban mambo and New Orleans marching bands. Singing in multiple indigenous languages in addition to French, the band creates rhythms firmly rooted in the voodoo culture of their ancestors—an inspired sound that personifies the global nature of Africa now. Walker Art Center and Cedar Cultural Center present the Gangbé Brass Band’s Minneapolis debut on Saturday, April 14, 8 pm, at the Cedar Cultural Center, 416 Cedar Avenue South in Minneapolis.
Once a prominent West African kingdom in the 15th century, Benin was colonized by the French in the late 1800s. The legacy of European brass bands is heard in many parts of Africa, and so is the legacy of vinyl that sailed from American jazz clubs. Witness Gangbé Brass Band’s Segala, a tribute to Oscar Peterson’s Night Train commemorating a year that Gangbé spent in a big band in Benin headed up by a German. But, as Michelle Mercer wrote in Time Out NY, Gangbé’s “mambofied horn arrangements also recall that Cuban music was once the rock & roll of West Africa.”
In an effort to maintain traditional Beninese rhythms and share them with a wider audience, Gangbé sought permission from voodoo priests and from their ancestors to use certain chants and rhythms. The band sings in several languages indigenous to Benin, including Fon, Ngou, Mina, Yoruba, Evé, as well as French.
Benin shares a border with Nigeria and though many of the songs make an obvious connection to the legacy of Afrobeat originator Fela Kuti (including tribute song Remember Fela), the happy tone of Whendo seems also to make reference to the juju sounds made popular worldwide by Nigeria’s King Sunny Ade, belying any perceived allegiance to a military or militant sound. Adept listeners might catch familiar musical references, from New Orleans marching bands to Afrobeat riffs.
Tickets to the Gangbé Brass Band are $22 ($18 Walker and Cedar members in advance); $25 day of show and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.