Album of the Day: Vincent Ahehehinnou, “Best Woman”

Vincent Ahehehinnou pitched up in Nigeria with something to prove. It was 1978 and he’d been ousted from popular Benin band the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou at the height of their powers, ending his decade-long association with the group because he challenged the way business was run.

But in a union made in Afrobeat heaven, Ahehehinnou connected with Ignace de Souza at Decca Studios in Lagos, who agreed to serve as his arranger for several unrecorded songs. The result of the pair’s alliance is Best Woman, a funky mix of infectious guitar licks, soulful vocals, and brisk Afrobeat rhythms that added another ripple to the city’s creative surge. Originally released in 1978 on Hasbunalau Records (the same year Ahehehinnou left Orchestre Poly-Rythmo), this long-time rarity finally sees a reissue and master on Analog Africa.

With each of the four tracks going over the eight-minute mark, Ahehehinnou’s arrangements have room to stretch their legs. Take opener “Best Woman,” a smoothly-moving number underpinned by a mid-tempo flow of chipped guitar chords, cooly rapped percussion and plenty of sizzling brass. The band effortlessly slot into the interlocking grooves as Ahehehinnou shuffles between a tuneful harmony with a female singer and a more pleading, spoken-word style vocal. As an affectionate ode to his beau, it works nicely.

The sharp wah-wah guitars and driving rhythm section of “Maimouna Cherie” could have scored a groovy ’70s crime film with amorous horns and Ahehehinnou’s tuneful vocals that soften the edges. With its slinky melody and emotive male-female vocal harmonies, yearning ballad “Vi Deka” almost resembles an old Southeast Asian pop song. “Wa Do Verité Ton Noumi,” meanwhile, offers more offbeat rhythms and twangy guitar plucks that add up to slow-paced psychedelic wig-out.

Best Woman, now pulled from an obscure crack in history, offers modern listeners a swerve back in time to a city that shook to the sound of a hot horn section.

—Dean Van Nguyen

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