James Brown is generally credited with inventing funk, but, of course, his main inspiration was an African aesthetic that had little hold on his everyday life. It was just there in his heritage as an African-American. Benin music a long time ago incorporated JB’s funk into its ritual style, essentially revivifying funk twice removed. Of the bands who have championed this style, none is more internationally pervasive than Vaudou Game.
Led by the charismatic and very tall Peter Solo, the band is smaller than its huge sound might indicate, and while it uses Brown’s various funk ideas in its music, the basic feeling is African rhythms and melodies. Holding forth at the Field of Heaven on Sunday, Solo was a true master of ceremonies, bringing the assembled masses into the fold of his music while at the same time proselytizing for his specific world view.
“You can feel the nature here,” he said, gesturing toward the forest that surrounds the venue. “This nature is better than the houses and money you treasure.” Though English is probably his third language, and the audience’s stopgap foreign language of obligation, the sentiment came through, though it took Solo a good twenty minutes to deliver his thesis, time that might have been better spent boogieing.
But boogie they did, and the the crowd fell into the grooves — more subtle and less doctrinaire than Brown’s — with an effortless ease. What came through was a clear love of the Fuji ideal on the part of Solo and his multi-racial ensemble and a return of love from people who had already absorbed that ideal. It was a perfect symbiosis of intent and desire.
Materially speaking, Solo’s sartorially choices and his natural showman impulses meant the concert moved immediately to the get-down mode. In one song, it seems as if everyone on stage was playing “the one” on cowbell (or the Beninese equivalent. The crowd went wild and the band honored their enthusiasm with not one, but two encores. “Let me ask them if they’re happy,” said Solo, not indicating whether he was discussing the crowd or his band. No matter, we were all ecstatic.