One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain
-Bob Marley

Today in our series of Extraordinary Voices, AWLO celebrates Angélique Kidjo; an amazing amazon whose music and blends of African style speaks volume in Africa and the world.

QUEEN OF AFRICAN MUSIC

Angelique Kidjo is a powerful, African singer and tireless performer, Angelique Kidjo has been one of the most successful performers to emerge on world music stages in the 1990s and 2000s. Her music not only draws from African traditions but also interprets the ways those traditions developed after Africans were seized and taken to the New World. Thus elements of American soul, funk, rap, and jazz, Brazilian samba, Jamaican reggae, and Cuban and Puerto Rican salsa all show up on her recordings, along with various African styles. She evolved into one of the international music scene’s most popular concert attractions, she accumulated a large fan base that happily came on stage and danced with her.

[Tweet “Voodoo is seen as something negative, but it’s not. It’s based on anima and on respect for a human being’s life.””]

EARLY LIFE AND CAREER

Angelique Kidjo is a native of Benin, on Africa’s Atlantic coast adjacent to Nigeria. She was born in the coastal city of Ouidah on July 14th, 1960, to government postal official Franck Kidjo (an enthusiastic photographer and banjo player on the side) and his choreographer wife Yvonne. Her parents were her first influence in music with whom she enjoyed great support in her musical career.

Among her eight siblings were several brothers who started a band when she was young, inspired by James Brown and other American stars who flooded Benin’s airwaves. Kidjo was musically eclectic from the start, listening avidly to juju sounds from neighboring Nigeria, to pop music from other African countries, to Cuban salsa music.

FROM AFRICA TO THE WORLD

Kidjo made her stage debut at age six with her mother’s dance troupe, and in the late 1970s she formed a band of her own and recorded an album that featured a cover version of a song by one ofher idols, South African singer Miriam Makeba. In 1980, however, Kidjo found her musical activities restricted by a New Leftist regime that took power in Benin and tried to force her to record political anthems. Kidjo fled to Paris in 1983 with the intent of studying law there and becoming a human rights lawyer. But of course her passion has always been music and she made the decision to touch people with her music.

Her partner in this enterprise was French bassist and composer Jean Hebrail, whom Kidjo married and with whom she has written much of her music; the pair has a daughter, Naima Laura, born in 1993. For several years Kidjo played in a French African jazz band called Pili Pili, led by pianist Jasper van t’Hof, but in 1989 she struck out on her own, forming a band and releasing the album Parakou. That debut had its intended effect: it attracted the attention of the biggest name in world music at the time, Chris Blackwell of Britain’s Island Records. He signed Kidjo to the label’s Mango subdivision, and her second album, Logozo, was released in 1991.

That album gained Kidjo a faithful core of fans that could be counted on to attend her highly participatory live shows. Her unusual image contributed to her success; in place of the expansive look of other African female vocalists, Kidjo sported a lean dancer’s body clad in denim pants, and she cut her hair very close to her head.

HIGHLIGHTS ON KIDJO

Angelique Kidjo is a Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter, human rights and gender activist.

She is a powerful singer and tireless performer. Time magazine has called her “Africa’s premier diva”

Angelique Kidjo has been one of the most successful performers to emerge on world music stages in the 1990s and 2000s. She draws her musical inspiration from African traditions but not only that, she also interprets them to emphasize on the development of Africa after the years of slavery.

Kidjo is fluent in Fon, French, Yorùbá and English, and sings in all four languages.

Kidjo has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. She is the recipient of the 2015 Crystal Award given by the World Economic Forum of Davos in Switzerland and has received the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in 2016.

Kidjo founded The Batonga Foundation, which gives support to girls in secondary school and higher education so that they can take the lead in changing Africa.

She is one of the 30 Extraordinary Voices featured in the Women’s Month Series by AWLO. Click on your favorite social media button below to share if you have been inspired by Angelique Kidjo.