Benin can be divided musically into a southern and a northern region. In the south, where the Aja- and Yoru-speaking peoples created a series of kingdoms, court music traditions, including epic “long song” and tribute music, live on royal instruments such as lianar bark flutes, ivory horns and drums. The region exhibits a wealth of musical instruments: some 40 drum types, bells, board citrons and the world’s largest known xylophone. Furthermore, there are a variety of sacred instruments that are included in the cults of vodun among the fon and gun people and of orisha among yoruba.
- Countryaah: Population and demographics of Benin, including population pyramid, density map, projection, data, and distribution.
In the north, the musical systems are less composed than in the kingdoms in the south. It also uses other instruments such as cauldron drums and long metal trumpets, introduced by Islam and strung by a class of professional musicians.
Benin’s popular music drew influences from the Congolese rumba and highlife from Ghana and Nigeria in the years after independence as well as Cuban music, American soul and French show. Key artists at this time were Ignacio Blazio Osho, GG Vickey, Gnonnas Pedro (1943–2004), who subsequently joined the African “supergroup” Africando, and the orchestra Poly-Rythmo. Nel Oliver (born 1948) reached international success in the mid-1970’s and has since played an important role in Benin’s music life as an artist, producer and record label owner.
The country’s biggest musical star is Angélique Kidjo, who is one of the most successful African artists of all time. Like Kidjo, jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke (born 1973) is active abroad. In addition to editions in his own name and together with the group Gilfema, he is often hired as studio musician. Keyboardist Wally Badarou (born 1955) has had a long successful career, perhaps mainly associated with the British band Level 42. Internationally successful is also the Gangbé Brass Band with its mix of big band jazz and traditional rhythmic patterns.
After the 1972 military coup, the regime encouraged the country’s musicians to seek their roots. Inspired by the local funeral music tchinkoumé, percussionist Tohon Stan together with the band Tchink System created dance music where traditional instruments are an important element.