Angélique Kidjo

Before last night, I did not know that there was such an artist as Angélique Kidjo.   She did a concert on PBS called, Angélique Kidjo And Friends:  Spirit Rising.  Her special guests included Josh Groban, Ezra Koenig, Branford Marsalis, Dianne Reeves, dancers from the Broadway show FELA! 

I didn’t get to watch the show because it was late and I had to work the next day but I heard her sing Summertime.  It looked like a very entertaining show and I’m sorry I missed the powerful performances.

Angélique comes a part of Africa, the cradle of civilization.  she is the is a Grammy Award winning Beninoise singer-songwriter and activist from Benin.   She is fluent in Fon, French, Yorùbá, and English and sings in all four languages; she also has her own personal language which includes words that serve as song titles such as “Batonga”. Malaika is a song sung in Swahili language. She often utilizes Benin’s traditional Zilin vocal technique and jazz vocalese.

Her father is from the Fon people of Ouidah and her mother from the Yoruba people. She grew up listening to Beninese traditional music, Miriam Makeba, James Brown, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, and Santana.  Miriam Makeba is a singer I remember hearing as a child.  I think of her when I hear the woman singing the song from Lion King.  It seems as if music was in her blood.  By the time she was six, Angélique was performing with her mother’s theatre troupe, giving her an early appreciation for traditional music and dance. She started singing 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 a child I too grew up listening to different types of music and to this day I still have a great appreciation for it.  However, unlike Angélique, I was not to become a singer.

In 1983 Angélique relocated to Paris because political conflicts in Benin prevented her from being an independent artist in her own country.  While in Paris, she studied music at the CIM, a reputable Jazz school in Paris where she met and married musician and producer Jean Hebrail with whom she has composed most of her music. 

Angélique has recorded George Gershwin’s “Summertime”, Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” and The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”, and has collaborated with Dave Matthews and the Dave Matthews Band, Kelly Price, Branford Marsalis, Robbie Nevil, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Carlos Santana, John Legend, Herbie Hancock and Cassandra Wilson. Kidjo’s hits include the songs “Agolo”, “We We”, “Adouma”, “Wombo Lombo”, “Afirika”, “Batonga”, and her version of “Malaika”. 

Angélique’s role as an advocate for change is very impressive. She has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. With UNICEF, she has travelled to many countries in Africa. Reports on her visits can be found on the UNICEF site: Benin, Senegal, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Syria, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Haiti. 

She founded The Batonga Foundation.  Batonga’s mission is to support both secondary school and higher education for girls in Africa. They do this by granting scholarships, building secondary schools, increasing enrollment, improving teaching standards, providing school supplies, supporting mentor programs, exploring alternative education models and advocating for community awareness of the value of education for girls. 

She has campaigned for Oxfam at the 2005 Hong Kong WTO meeting, for the their Fair Trade Campaign and travelled with them in North Kenya and at the border of Darfur and Chad with a group of women leaders in 2007 and participated to the video for the In My Name Campaign with Will I Am from The Black Eyed Peas

She has hosted the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Prize for Achievement in African Leadership in Alexandria, Egypt on November 26, 2007 and on November 15, 2008, in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania on November 14, 2009 and in Mauritius Island on Nov 20th 2010.

More recently, since March 2009, Angélique Kidjo has been campaigning for “Africa for women’s rights”. This campaign was launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH),

On September 28, 2009, UNICEF and Pampers launched a campaign to eradicate Tetanus “Give The Gift Of Life” and asked Angélique to produce the song You Can Count On Me to support the campaign. Each download of the song will donate a vaccine to a mother or a mother to be.

Along with Jessica Biel and Peter Wentz, she is one of the LiveEarth Ambassadors for the 2010 Run For Water events

Angélique has recorded a video based on her song Agolo and on the images of Yann Arthus-Bertrand for the United Nations SEAL THE DEAL Campaign to prepare for the Copenhagen Climate Change summit.

The Commission of the African Union (AU) announced on July 16, 2010, the appointment of Angelique Kidjo as one of the 14 Peace Ambassadors to support the implementation of the 2010 Year of Peace and Security programme.

Angelique appears in the Sudan365: Keep the Promise video to support the peace process in Darfur.

She also supports the Zeitz Foundation, an organization focused on sustainable development and conservation.

In June 2010, she contributed the song “Leila” to the Enough Project and Downtown Records’ Raise Hope for Congo compilation. Proceeds from the compilation fund efforts to make the protection and empowerment of Congo’s women a priority, as well as inspire individuals around the world to raise their voice for peace in Congo.

In 2011, she collaborated with Forró in the Dark and Brazilian Girls on the track Aquele Abraço for the Red Hot Organization’s most recent charitable album “Red Hot + Rio 2.” The album is a follow-up to the 1996 “Red Hot + Rio.” Proceeds from the sales will be donated to raise awareness and money to fight AIDS/HIV and related health and social issues.

She performed at many special concerts but I will mention only a few.  In 2005 she appeared at the Africa Unite Live concert in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a concert to celebrate Hon Bob Marley’s 60th birthday, and was a featured speaker at the conference of African Unity held along with the concert.  In March 2005, she appeared at the Africa Live concert in Dakar along with many great African stars in front of 50,000 people.  On July 7, 2007, she performed at the South African leg of Live Earth.  She joined forces with Annie Lennox and 22 other female artists to raise the awareness of the transmission of HIV to unborn children in Africa.  On October 23, 2009, she sung at the United Nations General Assembly for the UN Day Concert, A Tribute to Peacekeeping with Nile Rodgers, John McLaughlin and Lang Lang.  On December 4, 2009, in Cape Town, South Africa, she performed her song Agolo at the Final Draw of the Fifa World Cup 2010.  And on February 15, 2010, Angélique performed in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics Games at the Place De La Francophonie.

Today we salute this amazing woman for her music and her tireless efforts to make a difference in the world.  Time Magazine deemed her “Africa’s premier diva”.  Through her foundation, she promotes education for girls in Africa and through her travels in the world she inspires and empowers many. 

“I’m an African bringing my culture to the Western world. But I use technology and rhythm and blues and jazz and rock. I make it easier for you by combining your tools with mine. But then some will say the music is not pure.”

“We Africans have to be able to deal with our problems. Help from outside is alright, but we have to learn to be responsible for our own attitudes.”

“It is an issue of attitude change. You cannot preserve cattle and let your children die.”

“Go to Harlem! We call it Little Senegal now. Wherever I go, Africa is in my roots.”

Angélique Kidjo




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