Bobo Yéyé: Belle Époque in Upper Volta
is a hefty, handsome box set; it's equal parts photo exhibit and musical anthology documenting the landlocked nation (now known as Burkina Faso) during the 1970s. It shines a light on Bobo-Dioulasso's music scene as an explosion of pop culture paved the way for 1983's coup d'etat led by Thomas Sankara (a former jazz musician) to rename the country.
Revolution is a process, not an event, and this artifact offers one kind of proof. The 176-page hardbound book provides an introductory essay with a fine historical overview of colonial, post-colonial, and pre-revolutionary Upper Volta. A short note by photographer Sory Sanle
offers his story, and is followed by dozens of his quietly stunning black-and-white photos that include studio portraits, promo shots of musicians, and night-time street scenes. There are biographies of the country's legendary groups Volta Jazz, Dafra Star (led by former -- and best -- VJ vocalist Coulibaly Tidiani
), Echo del Africa
, and Les Imbattables Leopards
, and interviews. Full-color photos of various recordings adorn some pages, as do complete discographies of important labels. And, of course, there is the music.
The set includes a disc each by Volta Jazz and Dafra Star. They offer rare tracks illustrating a startling crossroads where Malian and Nigerian melodies and rhythms collide with those of Ghana and Niger. Along the way, they encounter and build on Cuban rhythms, rock, and R&B sounds from the Americas. Check Volta Jazz's mind-melting "Mousso Koroba Tike." Fuzzed-up psychedelic wah-wah guitars and rock drums run headlong into highlife, accompanied by polyrhythmic hand drums and souled-out vocal harmonies. Contrast this with Dafra Star's fusion of call-and-response Malian folk and Latin-inspired funk in "Sie Koumgolo." Echo del Africa opens disc three with the cooking, Afrobeat-drenched funk of "Gentlemen Doromina." Later, they showcase a driving, Yoruban-cum-Juju pulse and chant in "Yiri Wah." Les Imbattables Leopards move through sweet, tender Afro-soul on "Milaoba" then get salsa-fied on "Nene." This disc also includes the popping dance number "He Ya Wanna" by Ouedraogo Youssef
-- complete with Stax soul-styled horns -- and "Arindo" by Idy-O-Idrissa
, a waltz-time R&B ballad whose melody derives from the Sahel folk tradition. Bobo Yéyé: Belle Époque in Upper Volta
is one of Numero's most obsessively assembled artifacts, and given their high standards, that's saying plenty. While many labels release varied, excellent portraits of music from the African continent, Numero's project illustrates a particular place and time that laid the foundation for an entire people to build a nation.