Gnonnas Pedro

Singer with the African salsa supergroup Africando

The late-blooming singer and musician Gnonnas Pedro achieved world-wide fame when he joined the African salsa supergroup Africando in 1996. But he had been well known in his home- town of Cotonou, Benin, since becoming active on the music scene there in the early 1960s.

Gnonnas Youssou Pierre (Gnonnas Pedro), singer, trumpeter and saxophonist: born Bossa, Benin 10 January 1943; (three sons, four daughters); died Cotonou, Benin 12 August 2004.

The late-blooming singer and musician Gnonnas Pedro achieved world-wide fame when he joined the African salsa supergroup Africando in 1996. But he had been well known in his home- town of Cotonou, Benin, since becoming active on the music scene there in the early 1960s.

He has been described as a jack-of-all-trades for his many talents, which included playing trumpet and sax, singing and dancing. He also tailored his style to the vagaries of fashion in a country which has never produced much of a distinctive musical culture due to the overbearing influence of its neighbours.

But it was his early and abiding penchant for Latin sounds which eventually brought him wider recognition in the twilight of his career. Having recorded a single with the French crooner Charles Aznavour in 1964, Pedro spent the Sixties leading his group Pedro y Sus Panchos. They exploited the vogue for Latin music in West Africa at the time, combining it with folklore from the Fon and Yoruba peoples in styles such as agbadja.

Pedro enjoyed popularity in Nigeria during the 1970s with Yoruba highlife hits such as " Fes Jaiye" with his band Orchestra Poly-Rythmo. The following decade his band were known as Ses Dadjes. He recorded prolifically for various labels in Benin, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, and in 1984 began a professional relationship with the influential Senegalese producer Ibrahim Sylla. The following year their single " Les Femmes d'Abord" took much of West Africa by storm.

In 1993, Sylla masterminded the formation of Africando, combining three Senegalese vocalists and the cream of New York's Latin music scene, and sparking off an international craze for African salsa. Sylla asked Pedro to join the group in 1996, a year after the death of their singer Pape Seck. Over their next four albums Pedro was a featured vocalist on songs such as " Dagamasi", " Musica en Vérité", " Dacefo" and " Hwomevonon" - often revived from his earlier career.

Africando toured Europe, the United States and parts of Africa, with Pedro making his UK début at the Equinox Ballroom in London in 1997, where he impressed with his lively dancing, effervescent grin and irrepressible cries of "Yee-hooo!" at the ends of songs. The singer Sekouba "Bambino" Diabaté, who also guested on Africando's albums, recalls Pedro's contribution thus: "He liked his work a lot and really enjoyed giving pleasure to his fans as well. And he was very lively onstage, a real natural entertainer."

Jon Lusk



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