Organic-electronic songs recorded in Togo by a feminist quintet. Voodoo tradition and soul, aimed for the dance floor
They all grew up in Togo, only a few frontiers away from Benin and Nigeria, several decades separa- ting them from the great Fela, the man who turned a Yoruba proverb into a hit: Water No Get Enemy. The members of Nana Benz also grew up with the knowledge that water was so precious it had no price, and that Mother Nature was a figure to be celebrated...
In fact, respect of the planet and its inhabitants lies at the very heart of their catalogue of songs, songs firmly anchored in the richness of voodoo heritage, songs extolling the value of freedom in English, French and Mina. Earth, wind, fire and water - Nature : that’s what voodoo is! “We’ve always been ecologists, without knowing it, because Voodoo is in fact Nature”, explains Izeale, one of the three vocalists. “At a given moment in our lives, we all dived headfirst into this heritage we had left behind. And there, we discovered the power of voodoo, but also its scales, its incredible rhythms, and its wonderful melodies. And now we dive back in once more, body and soul, because we need to possess enough strength to carry these songs!”.
Before walking down the path that led them to convents and voodoo ceremonies, these musicians experienced many trials and tribulations. “When you have been raised in a Christian environment, when you sang the praises of Jesus Christ, it’s not easy to turn to voodoo”, admits Parus. “But when I lost my parents at the age of 13, I ended up in charge of the family, and with my younger brothers and sisters, I was looking for a beacon! And that’s where I discovered that voodoo is not just a question of dolls and all that evil folklore we have made up, but that voodoo is within all of us, it’s life itself. And that saved me...”
From that time onwards, Kasanku, Lady Apoc, Parus, Toto and Izealedu never really intended to put this culture under the spotlight, yet they set alight the Transmusicales de Rennes in 2022 with a juggernaut of ceremonial electro-voodoo-soul.
Many years of work in the shadows were required before Nana Benz dared get up on stage. First of all, there was a chance meeting during a musical workshop, piloted by Peter Solo (the man behind the surprise and success of the group Vaudou Games, amongst other achievements). The five artists did not know each other yet, but instantly discovered that they were on the same wavelength. The first musical seeds sown quickly flourished. They started out with this completely organic rhythm, one that grabs you deep inside and makes you want to shake your hips. The instrumentarium of the two percussionists became more than powerful despite being 100% recycled. The formidable basslines were in fact created by two PVC tubes (the Gazé Tuyau), and a suitcase belonging to Toto’s grandfather, “a voodoo travelling salesman who visited the four corners of the earth”, provided a robust bass drum. Toto added genuine ceremonial pots belonging to his grandmother to the mix, equipment used to prepare potions for the “voodoo practising older ladies who would sing all the time, and whose voices ended up imprinted there”. These drums, charged with the voices of ancestors, quickly came to life thanks to the bass of the Gazé Tuyau and took on the name of “batterie Do It Yourself” (DIY drumkit). This organic groove gorged with subbass, and complex polyrhythms became a bedrock for the voices of three awe-inducing electro-soul preachers, accompanied by a small vintage Korg keyboard. The setup is minimalist, but oh so powerful, and managed to place thousands of spectators in a trance during the Transmusicales de Rennes festival. “The trance in our music is supplied by repetitive energy! It comes straight from the heart, and this is why our message carries Nature within it, as we honour this Nature in all that we do”, explains Lady Apoc. “We compose a lot using the voodoo scales of the snake (Dan) and that of Mamie Wata”, confides Kasanku, a former bass player, who took four years to assemble his incredible Gazé Tuyau.
All that was left was to find a name for this truly atypical quintet carried aloft by three voices and three very strong personalities. The band therefore settled upon Nana Benz, a tribute to the impressive wax print retailers of Lomé central market (Togo) who liked to drive a Mercedes Benz, women the powerful confided in as they knew better than anyone how to thread together the many strains of money and power, with feminist strength .... “We admire these women for displaying such courage and force within our patriarchal societies, but also voodoo, that teaches us that the material corrupts mankind, and that we must search for peace and harmony above all, so we are also far removed from commerce!”, adds Izealedu...
When the music starts, the five men and women who form Nana Benz are rise to this challenge with flying colours!