T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou: “Ecoute Ma Melodie” (Vicky & Eskill: 152 Kilos de Voix, 1980)
Sometimes I catch myself wondering if the fact that I’m interested in so many things actually means I’m not interested in anything enough to commit myself to it wholeheartedly. I love astronomy, but don’t do anything astronomy-related most nights aside from reading Bad Astronomy. I love baseball but haven’t played it since I was a kid and only occasionally watch it. I’ve studied both a lot, though.
This problem keeps rising to the top of my list of concerns as I hack my way through a forest of academic articles toward a master’s degree. I’m less than a year from finishing now, and the question that nags is, once I obtain this important piece of paper, what do I do with it?
Urban planning isn’t a narrow or even well-defined field. that’s one of the things that drew me to it (it’s also the thing that makes me a writer, I think). I know I can’t do one narrow thing for an entire professional life, and planning offers a lot of avenues, many of them eclectic in themselves. But that’s the devilish thing about it, too—it’s tough to seek a job when there are so many different directions you can see yourself exploring.
On a level with much lower stakes, I play this out all the time when deciding what to listen to. There’s a point where variety and choice becomes paralyzing (a point that retailers have almost universally crossed and the reason shopping is not among my interests), and my amassed music, spread over four formats, tens of thousands of artists, hundreds of genres and geographies and literally hundreds of thousands of individual tracks, is getting to that point.
It’s why I’ve dialed way back on acquisition (this was made easier by the time suck of school work). I still find it hard to resist forgotten British hard rock from the early 70s or funk from the tropics when I come across it, but I’m done questing for it for now, haunting a wide circle of blogs daily and buying compilations in bulk.
This doesn’t mean I’m not hearing new music. To the contrary, the massive aggregation I’ve built up (it feels somehow wrong to refer to the whole thing as a collection) presents me with a near bottomless seam of ore to mine, and it is studded with uncountable gems.
I spent a whole day listening to Benin’s Orchestre Poly-Rythmo the other week, and this was one of the best finds. From one of the group’s last LPs to feature drummer Leopold Yehouessi and guitarist Papillon before both died within a year of each other, “Ecoute Ma Melodie” is pulsing Afrofunk that smears the sounds this band covered over the decade of the 70s into a timeless concoction that features some beautifully slippery sax work up front, nicely subdued synthesizer, spiky organ, sharp horns, and an up-the-neck bassline from Bentho Gustave that’s freaky enough to lend a hint of psychedelia to everything.
I don’t know if this is Vicky or Eskill singing—I feel like I should, because, along with Melome Clement, they were the greatest vocalists Poly-Rythmo played with, and I’ve heard their voices hundreds of times without ever really sorting the two of them out—but I love the restraint. You get the feeling everyone involved in this track is keeping himself in check, and yet the song they combine to make burns unbelievably hot.
And so this is now one of the songs I go to in order to reassure myself that broad interests aren’t mutually exclusive with passionate interests, because I can be head-over-heels with this and Black Sabbath and Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club Orchestra and Calexico and Debussy and a hundred other things equally and at once, and it doesn’t matter.
I still don’t know exactly where I’ll take that degree, but I’m going to spend the next few months reminding myself that a multiplicity of options is a gift if you know how to accept it.