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07/01/2016
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Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble’s Fire, Sweat & Pastis in stores 7/7

With TVD closed for summer vacation next week, I thought I would alert our readers to a great album which will be released next Thursday. For fans of world music, Fire, Sweat & Pastis is a fascinating listen and is destined to become a dance floor favorite. Fans in Canada can expect a tour followed by an appearance at the prestigious Montreal Jazz Festival on July 7.

Finnish guitarist Janne Halonen leads the Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble, which features West African and Scandinavian musicians playing a unique blend of jazz, funk, R&B, and the traditional music of Benin. The hallmarks of the sound will be familiar to anyone who digs percussive rhythms, funky bass lines, soulful call-and-response vocals, and virtuosic brass and woodwind melodies.

While most readers know Helsinki as the capital of Finland, Cotonou is Benin’s most populous city hence the name of the group. Halonen first traveled there in 2009 and connected with vocalist and percussionist Noël Saïzonou. A band and a new musical hybrid were born.

The partnership flourished in Finland when Saïzonou visited multiple times. Originally the band was a quartet with drummer Juha Räsänen and bassist Sampo Riskilä. They promptly recorded their first album, Beaucoup de Piment (A Lot of Pepper).

In 2012, Halonen finally went back to Benin. Janne, Juha, and Sampo found themselves in a recording studio in Cotonou. Just two weeks later, they performed their new songs for African audiences and laid the foundation for Fire, Sweat & Pastis. “We wrote the songs for our second album on tour, between shows,” Halonen said, “In the heat of the moment.”

I generally don’t like to compare musical styles and name drop musicians, but Rick Sanders of fRoots magazine described them as “Weather Report meets Fela.” Enough said.