Bénin International Musical
Benin International Musical (BIM) is a project initiated by the French public radio service, Radio France, which was seeking to create artistic cooperation links with Africa. The aim was to make the music of Benin better known and to highlight voodoo culture.
Voodoo was a victim of clichés and was demonized by colonists, but its heritage is highly positive, says Hervé Riesen, assistant director of radio networks and programs at Radio France and producer of the BIM project. Benin, known historically as the former kingdom of Dahomey, is home to voodoo convents where the instruments and rhythms that gave birth indirectly to current musical forms (blues, jazz, rock and rap) were invented, he notes. Voodoo also brings a spirit of unity and cohesion that has enabled Benin to steer clear of fundamentalist excesses and to remain peaceful, in particular by giving women a special place.
To revive the melodies of the ancient peoples of Dahomey, Hervé Riesen joined forces with French composer and producer Jérôme Ettinger, who had supported a similar project in Egypt, and with Beninese producer Aristide Agondanou, a former member of the Gangbé Brass Band. From voodoo convents to evangelical churches and to clubs in Cotonou, they scoured Benin to put together a collective of musicians representative of the new musical generation. After several months of auditions in 2016, they recruited musicians and vocalists from backgrounds in gospel as well as in hip-hop and traditional song, together with a bass, drum and percussion rhythm section.
The seven members of BIM (Emile Totin, Lionel, Yêwhe Yeton, Yaovi, Jimmy Belah, Nayel Haxo and Brigitte Kiti) have received the support of the Institut français in Cotonou, which provided them with space for two years to record their first album, BIM#1, released early in 2019. The nine tracks allow the listener to step backwards and follow the route of the slaves from where the original blues arrived. In a musical journey from Ouidah, the main port in the slave trade in the 19th century, to the cotton fields of the American South, voodoo rhythms, traditional songs and electric melodies are blended in a global music approach, consisting of an explosive mix of Afrobeat, trip-hop, rock and electro, crossed with swing and melodic gospel accents.
After performing in Europe and the United States, BIM continues its summer tour in Canada before playing at New York’s Carnegie Hall in October.