Afro-funk, reggae, samba, salsa, gospel, jazz, Zairean rumba, zouk and makossa are combined through the music of soulful, Benin-born and Paris-based, vocalist, Angelique Kidjo. Since the release of her self-produced, debut, solo album, Pretty, in 1988, Kidjo has been embraced by the international press. “The New York Times”, hailed her for “growls and swoops that link African tradition to American soul music”, while, iMagazine claimed, “There has rarely been an African diva of such wholesomeness and fertility to the power and intoxication of Angelique Kidjo.” Kidjo’s albums have been strengthened by contributions from top-notch guest musicians and producers. Parakou, her first internationally-distributed album, featured jazz keyboardist Jasper Van’t Hof, the leader of Pili Pili, a Holland-based Afro-jazz band with whom Kidjo had performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1987. Logozo, recorded in Miami in 1991 and produced by Joe Galdo of the Miami Sound Machine, featured Branford Marsalis on saxophone. Marsalis later performed on Kidjo’s album, Oremi. Released in, the album featrued Kidjo singing duets with Cassandra Wilson (“Never Know”) and Kelly Price (“Open Your Eyes”). Kidjo’s most ambitious album, Fifa, featured more than one hundred percussionists, flautists, cowbell and berimbau players, singers and dancers from Benin and one track featuring Carlos Santana. Kidjo’s husband, Jean Hebrail, a French bass player and composer she met in 1987, has played a major role in the recording of her albums.The daughter of an actress, dancer and theatrical producer, Kidjo was born in Quidah, a coastal city in the West African country of Benin. Inheriting her mother’s love of performing, she made her stage debut with her mother’s theatrical troupe.Inspired by the rock, pop and soul music of Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Miriam Makeba, James Brown and Aretha Franklin, she was singing professional by her twentieth birthday. Although she recorded an album, Pretty, produced by Cameroun-based vocalist Ekambi Brilliant, that yielded a hit single, “Ninive”, the oppressive political environment of Benin led her to relocate to Paris in 1980.Although modern technology and electronics played an important role in the recording of her first four albums, Kidjo returned to her traditional roots with Fifa. Armed with eight track tape recorders and microphones, Kidjo and a team of engineers traveled to Benin to record traditional musicians, singers and dancers. The album was completed during recording sessions in Paris, London, Los Angeles and San Francisco.With her next album, Oremi, Kidjo returned to her futuristic approach. Incorporating elements of hip hop and Afro-Celtic grooves, Oremi featured a reconstructed interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. Kidjo explained her refusal to be limited to her native music in an article featured in “World Music: The Rough Guide”. “I won’t do my music different to please some people. I’m not going to play traditional drums and dress like bush people. I don’t tell Americans to play country music.”Kidjo’s enthusiastic presence was evident on the video of her international hit, “Agolo”, from her album, Aye. Produced by Will Mowatt of Soul II Soul and long-time Prince collaborator David Z, the video was nominated for a Grammy award. Kidjo’s songs have been featured on the soundtracks of such films as “My Favorite Season”, “Street Fighter” and “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”. — Craig Harris, All Music Guide

Leave a Comment