Gnonnas Pedro, also known as The Baobab of Benin music was born in Cotonou on January 10, 1943 as Pierre Soussou Gnonnas Kwasivi. When he grew up Cuban music was extremely popular in the bars and clubs of Cotonou and Porto Novo, the Capital of Benin. Inspired by bandleaders like Ignacio Blazio Osho [Orchestra Las Ondas] and Théophile do Rego dit El Rego [El Rego y sus Commandos], he founded his first band [Gnonnas y sus Panchos] in the mid 60’s.
Gilles Sala recognized his talent and contracted him for Riviera Afrique, part of the French Barclay label. In 1966 Rieviera Afrique released his first 45 rpm EP. The record contained four songs and was well received. “Gnonnas Pedro y sus Panchos will make thousands of dancers happy with his record”, wrote the enthousiastic Gilles Sala on the back of the cover. After his first EP, Gnonnas Pedro released another two successful EPs on the Riviera Afrique label.
In the late 60’s Gnonnas Pedro broadened his musical horizon by listening to – among others – American Blues, Highlife and local music. It resulted in Pedro’s popularization of the Agbadja-style, named after a drum in the Mono region, that he associated with his Afri-Cuban influences. This Agbadja moderne will become the rythmic basis of his music so much that the invention of Agbadia is attributed to Pedro. He traveled extensively with his band Les Dadjes in the region and visited Togo, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal. It was in this period that he recorded one of his biggest hit songs: Dadje von o von non.
Gilles, son of Benin’s most famous singer Gnonnas Pedro performs his fathers
song “okpo videa bassouo”. This video was shot by film maker Leigh
Iacobucci at nightclub Djembe Live in Cotonou, Benin on a hot and humid night
in April of 2008.
Throughout the 1970’s he was accompanied by the Dadjes Band, with which he recorded about fifteen albums released
in Benin, Nigeria, Ghana and France. The famous Africa tei Cuba clearly indicates where its influences originate,
straddling several Atlantic cultures. The title of Silvestre Mendez, the
classic Yiri yiri boum became after
the ‘treatment’ by Gnonnas Pedro a veritable Pan-African success of the early
1980s. In the same register and on the same album El Cochechivo is among his best Afro-Latin productions. In the
following years he continued his succes with songs like La musica en verité en La
In the mid 80’s he signed with Sylart Productions, where he released two albums, Mimi Pinson and Les femmes d’abord. This fruitful association made it possible to rediscover the talents and the vocal flexibility of one of the great voices of Benin. His passion for Afro-Cuban music and Salsa was rewarded in 1996 when he became one of the lead-singers of Africando, the great Afro-Cuban project of producer Ibrahim Sylla, replacing Senegalese Pape Seck. In 1999 he released his first and only CD, the varied, alternating album Agbadja. On this album Gnonnas Pedro again shows his great great command of different styles ranging from Highlife, Agbadja and Calypso to Cuban
Guanguanco and Charanga. On August 12, 2004, Gnonnas Pedro died of cancer. In benin he received a national funeral that was right to his great significance for the music in Benin, Africa and the african diaspora.
(Main source: Gnonnas Pedro: La belle époque by Florent Mazzoleni).
Discography (CD & LP)