BusinessDay

Angélique Kidjo; her passion, creative diversity

Quidah, a coastal city in Benin Republic, is one of the few places holidaymakers, especially African Diasporas, thronged on vacation to trail history, engage culture as well as to enjoy the best of Mother Nature.

However, the once slave-trading port is today the hub of culture and tourism. It is also the hometown of Angélique Kidjo, the unarguable greatest living African musician today.

Truly, she is.

Born on July 14, 1960, in Quidah, Benin Republic, as Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, the Beninese-American singer and songwriter who stages as Angélique Kidjo, is famous for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos that are appreciated across the world.

Since 1982 when she debuted in the music scene, her career has blossomed with an effortless march to stardom; winning prized laurels and global fans as well. Her creative diversity, versatility across all music genres and stagecraft endear her to a global fan base.

Starting with Afropop and Afrobeat, her first love, she easily delivers on other genres such as reggae, world music, world fusion, world beat, jazz, gospel, Latin, among others. The music icon, who speaks five languages, credits her versatility to her parental background. While her father is from the Fon people of Ouidah, her mother is from the Yoruba people, offering her an opportunity to experience different cultures.

Tracing her journey in the stardom, the African female music icon explains that she grew up listening to all genres of music, but was impressed with the sounds of the Beninese traditional music, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, James Brown, Manu Dibango, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Osibisa, and Santana.

She recalls that her early appreciation for traditional music and dance began at six years when she started performing with her mother’s theatre troupe. She went further to sing in her school band, Les Sphinx, and found success as a teenager with her adaptation of Miriam Makeba’s “Les Trois Z”, which played on national radio.

As well, she set out to hone her passion for music when she recorded the album Pretty with the Cameroonian producer Ekambi Brilliant and her brother Oscar. It featured the songs “Ninive”, “Gbe Agossi” and a tribute to the singer Bella Bellow, one of her role models. The success of the album allowed her to tour all over West Africa. The then continuing political conflicts in Benin prevented her from being an independent artiste in her own country and led her to relocate to Paris in 1983.

Of course, the Beninese two-time Grammy winner with over 10 albums to her credit, has worked with many record labels, especially Island, Mango, PolyGram, Columbia, Razor & Tie, and 429 Records across different music genres.

As well, some global music greats such as Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet, Peter Gabriel, Alicia Keys, Dr. John, Branford Marsalis, among others, who discovered her creative diversity, also collaborated with her in a number of music projects.

However, she rose to international fame with the release of Logozo; her album, which topped charts in 1991 in Paris and afterwards became a fixture of world music, pairing her unique multilingual fusion of Afrobeat, pop, jazz, reggae, and various African traditions with collaborators across several music genres.

Her notable albums include; Logozo, Ayé, Fifa, Trilogy, Oremi, Black Ivory Soul, Oyaya, Djin Djin, Õÿö, Spirit Rising, EVE, Remain In Light, and CELIA. But of all the albums, two easily come to mind; Djin Djin and Eve.

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Djin Djin, a star-studded album released in 2007, and Eve, a culturally rich album released in 2014, both earned her Grammy Awards in 2007 and 2014 respectively.

Djin Djin, which was released on May 1, 2007, featured many guest appearances including Josh Groban, Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys, Joss Stone, Peter Gabriel, Amadou and Mariam, Ziggy Marley, and Branford Marsalis. The title refers to the sound of a bell in Africa that greets each new day. The album, produced by Tony Visconti, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music album and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding World Music album.

On the other hand, the album Eve is dear to her heart. The album, which was released on January 28, 2014, won the Grammy for Best World Music Album at the 57th Grammy Awards in 2014.

Angélique Kidjo easily relates with the album Eve because it was dedicated to the women of Africa, to their resilience and their beauty. She travelled to Kenya and Benin, from South to North and back, armed with a six-track field recorder, to capture the sweet rhythmic harmonies and chants of traditional women choirs.

“Eve is an album of remembrance of African women I grew up with and a testament to the pride and strength that hide behind the smile that masks everyday troubles,” says Kidjo.

Aside winning the Grammy for Best World Music Album at the 57th Grammy Awards, the album debuted at number 1 in the Billboard World Music chart that year, it was rated #1 in the Top 12 of World Music albums for 2014 by Radio France Internationale and “M’Baamba”, its opening track, featured in the New York Times′ “Top 10 songs of 2014” list.

Though Eve won the Grammy, Angélique Kidjo always insists that part of the credit goes to the likes of Lionel Loueke, the Beninese percussionists from the Gangbe Brass Band, guitarist Dominic James, drummer Steve Jordan, bass great Christian McBride, and producer Patrick Dillett for their immense contributions to the world-class production of the music.

Others who helped the singer to fulfil her vision on “Eve” are a host of exciting prominent newcomers to her musical circle, including guitarist and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend, Nigerian Folk singer Aṣa on “Eva”, legendary pianist Dr. John, who adds his New Orleans magic to “Kulumbu”; The Kronos Quartet and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, The traditional Congolese song “Bana” features the vocals of Kidjo’s mother Yvonne.

Aside from her music, she wrote a memoir titled, ‘Spirit Rising, My Life, My Music’. The memoir was published by Harper Collins on January 7, 2014, with a preface written by Desmond Tutu and a foreword by Alicia Keys. On the back cover, Bill Clinton is quoted as saying: “The only thing bigger than Angélique Kidjo’s voice is her heart. In this evocative memoir, Kidjo chronicles an inspiring life of music and activism, and raises a passionate call for freedom, dignity, and the rights of people everywhere.”

On January 17, 2014, she collaborated with Philip Glass to premiere IFÉ: Three Yoruba songs for Angelique Kidjo and the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer at the Philharmonie hall in Luxembourg. Philip Glass wrote orchestral music based on three creation poems in Yoruba sung by Kidjo. In the program notes, Philip Glass says: “Angelique, together we have built a bridge that no one has walked on before.” The piece made its American premiere with the San Francisco Symphony to a sold-out crowd in the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall on July 10, 2015.

She is also lending her voice to global advocacy starting with Africa. She has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. With UNICEF, she has travelled to many countries in Africa and the world.

This year, 2022, the renowned Beninoise superstar released the visuals to her hit tune ‘Do Yourself’ off her soon-to-be-released album, ‘Mother Nature’, featuring Burna Boy.

The sensational track, ‘Do Yourself’, is nominated for this year’s 2022 Grammy awards in the Global Music Performance category.

But the visual, which is directed by Meji Alabi and shot in London and New York, celebrates Africa’s core essence, amid the coming together of two African music heavyweights.

Today, Angélique Kidjo has come of age and is a veteran in her own right. She stages around the world, from major festivals to concert halls and clubs. Moreover, the foremost African musician still receives accolades for her creative diversity and willingness to push the envelope.

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