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Angélique Kidjo

Waltons World Masters Series

‘Her spirit is irrepressible, and she brings life to everything she touches.’
– Peter Gabriel

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When Saturday, 1 May 2010, 8 pm
Where National Concert Hall, Main Auditorium
Presented by Waltons New School of Music
Supported by RTÉ lyric fm, Sunday Independent, Conrad Dublin Hotel

Angélique Kidjo Group

Angélique Kidjo • Vocals
Dominic James • Guitar
Andre Manga • Bass
Ibrahim Diagne • Percussion
Daniel Freedman • Drums

Proceeds from this concert went to Unicef Ireland’s Haiti Appeal.

See the Concert Poster.

‘Africa’s premier diva.’
– Time Magazine

‘An electrifying cool – as contemporary, stylish and vibrant as it comes.’
– Time Out

‘Kidjo reminds you what a real voice sounds like.’
– Sunday Times

‘An unstoppable force in world music….Her albums have found an audience way beyond the confines of the world music scene.’
– Daily Telegraph

‘No one has followed in [Miriam] Makeba’s footsteps more convincingly than Kidjo.’
– Financial Times

‘Her supercharged pipes have never sounded better, her irresistible energy and joie de vivre never more palpable….Kidjo reaffirms her global-diva credentials.’
– LA Times

‘The music never let Africa behind. It was always in Ms. Kidjo’s earthy voice, as it rebounded percussively off the band’s rhythms, soared in incantations or suddenly flickered and leaped with the edge of traditional singing. It was in the lyrics, usually sung in African languages like Yoruba or Fon and carrying proverbs and messages about freedom, love and unity.’
– New York Times

There is simply no musician quite like Angélique Kidjo. One of the true stars of world music, she has spread her rhythmic Afro-fusion to the far reaches of the globe, cross-pollinating the West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of R&B, jazz, and funk, as well as influences from Europe and Latin America. Kidjo commands the stage with her fun-loving personality and electrifying charisma, and ‘her voice has never sounded more expressive or exquisitely nuanced’ (The Times, London). This Grammy Award winning singer crosses musical boundaries and, in doing so, seeks to unite different world cultures through her music. Angélique Kidjo is also a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador and has delivered countless speeches on the issues children and women face in her native land and elsewhere.

Angélique Kidjo

Angélique Kidjo was born in Benin and began her career at age six by performing in her mother’s theatre troupe. In 1983, due to Benin’s unstable political climate, she moved to Paris where she studied jazz. Her music is heavily influenced by West African rhythms and incorporates a range of other musical traditions, such as funk, rumba, salsa, jazz, souk and makossa. She is multilingual, speaking and singing in English, French, Yoruba and Fon, the native language of Benin.

Kidjo has won a number of music awards, including the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album for Djin Djin. Her most recent album Oyo, released in Europe in February 2010 and in the USA in April 2010, has been described as ‘a wildly intoxicating musical brew’ (MOJO), ‘joyously powerful’ (Metro UK) and an ‘upbeat marriage of African tradition and Western pop’ (Sunday Times).

Kidjo has collaborated with a number of great international artists, including Bono, of The Black Eyed Peas; Peter Gabriel; Joss Stone; and Carlos Santana, among others.

Time magazine’s description of Kidjo as ‘Africa’s premier diva’ speaks accurately to the singular career and life she has forged. Like Miriam Makeba before her, Kidjo is the continent’s most internationally celebrated female musical exponent. And yet she has lived outside Africa for more than two decades. Kidjo currently resides in New York City, where she is an exceptionally active member of the music scene, and she reaches people around the world with her recordings, tours and philanthropic work.

Mother Africa

Sunday Tribune, 21 March 2010

World music star Angélique Kidjo delved into four decades of her musical past for inspiration on her latest album. She talks to Barry Didcock ahead of her visit to Ireland in May.

One of world music’s biggest stars, Angélique Kidjo, will finally find time in her crazy schedule to play Ireland this year. Typical of the high-profile engagements that kept the 49-year-old jetting between the capitals of the world in 2009 were a concert tribute to Nelson Mandela in New York, festival appearances in Rio de Janeiro and Paris, shows at the Sydney Opera House and London’s Barbican, a role in a multimedia theatrical spectacular in Rome and (back to New York for this one) a performance at the United Nations General Assembly to celebrate UN Day.

The Benin-born singer was also inducted into the Afropop Hall Of Fame alongside Harry Belafonte, and was in Cape Town to perform at the draw for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. A few days later she was in Denmark for another concert, this time at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Her best moment of last year, however, was performing at Barack Obama’s official inauguration ball in Washington DC. Along with the booking came an invitation to a party at Ted Kennedy’s house and VIP seats for the inauguration itself.

“I was frozen with emotion,” says Kidjo, recalling the day she watched America’s first black president take the oath of office. “I couldn’t believe it. I can’t describe the atmosphere. It was the first time ever for me to be in that kind of event because I don’t go to political things. But I was invited and I said, ‘I have to witness this.’ It was so beautiful. Just talking about it I have tears in my eyes.”

Home since 1983 has been Paris, but there are few places in the world Kidjo’s blend of Afro-Latin rhythms can’t find some common ground – and fewer still that she hasn’t reached with her endless touring. The latter category will be reduced even further when she makes her first ever Irish appearance at Dublin’s NCH on 1 May for a Unicef Ireland Haiti benefit as part of the Waltons World Masters series.

Earlier this year, Kidjo released Oyo, the follow-up to her Grammy Award-winning 2007 album Djin Djin. A selection of the songs that have inspired her over the course of her four decades as a singer, she first heard some of them while growing up in the Beninoise port city of Cotonou, others she came across later. Among them are Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’, ‘Samba Pa It’ by Carlos Santana, Otis Redding’s ‘I Got Dreams’ and the Aretha Franklin ballad ‘Baby I Love You’.

There are some curios too: ‘Petite Fleur’, for instance, a classical jazz piece written by Sidney Bechet, John Barry’s theme music from the film Out Of Africa, and Bollywood show tune ‘Dil Main Chuppa Ke Pyar Ka’, taken from Mehboob Khan’s epic 1952 film Aan. That last song took some tracking down as Kidjo had only a snatch of melody and her childhood recollections of a cinema visit to go on. Her brother, a regular visitor to India, sourced the original song.

Among the collaborators who took part in Oyo’s frenetic four-day recording schedule were fellow Grammy Award winner John Legend, jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove, jazz singer Dianne Reeves, guitarist Lionel Loueke and members of Brooklyn-based Afrofunk outfit, Antibalas. For Kidjo, Oyo is a tribute of sorts to her father, a musician himself who died of liver cancer in 2008.

“The couple of hours I spent with him before he passed away was very intense,” she says. “I was in the middle of a tour and I was still in denial about the fact he was dying because just a month before we were goofing around, having fun. I couldn’t believe his health had deteriorated that much. He was diagnosed with liver cancer at the end of March and he died at the end of April.” From her father’s death came Kidjo’s conviction that she should remember him “through the thing he gave me, which is music. Music has been my shelter and my backbone.”

Growing up as one of 10 children in a west African family in the early 1970s, Kidjo heard plenty of American soul and funk on the radio and from her brothers’ own record collections. Her mother, a choreographer who set up Benin’s first theatre company, also played clarinet. But in her early years, Kidjo’s musical education came mostly from her father.

“There was classical music and traditional music from all sorts of places,” she says. “My father always travelled around and brought stuff home because he was a believer in exposing his kids to different types of culture. So when I started this album, things started pouring out of my memory. I didn’t hold anything back. I let them come out.”

Like fellow African music stars Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour, Kidjo is heavily involved in advocacy for organisations such as Unicef and Oxfam. In 2006 she also founded The Batonga Foundation, which aims to provide African girls with secondary and tertiary education, and now works in five African countries. So with the passing of Miriam Makeba in 2008, it’s Kidjo who looks the most likely inheritor of the South African’s Mama Afrika mantle.

But unlike Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour, who both live and work in the relatively stable Senegal, most of Kidjo’s career has been undertaken in exile. She started singing aged six – the closing track of Oyo, the traditional ‘Atcha Houn’, is the first song she ever performed – but when she was 12, in 1972, Benin became a dictatorship based on Marxist-Leninist ideology. Freedom of expression for artists and musicians became impossible, and in 1983 Kidjo left her homeland for good, heading to Paris where her brother was studying. There she met her husband, Jean Hebrail, and began the career that would eventually lead her to Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who signed her to his label in 1991.

“It was 1989 before I was even able to speak to my parents on the phone and it was nine years before I was able to go back,” she says, recalling the years of exile. “I suffered a lot from the fact I couldn’t speak to my father because he was my counsellor. [As an exile] you lose a great part of yourself because you have to adapt – not only to different customs but to different time and weather. You’re like a boat in the ocean and you don’t know where to go. All you have is the horizon in front of you. Every day I woke up and missed my parents so much I would cry.”

Today, the old regime has gone and Benin enjoys multi-party elections, but Paris remains Kidjo’s base of operations. The availability of flights is just one reason. There are others, such as the family she has with Hebrail and the not insignificant fact that she’s now spent the greater part of her life in France. Still, she says, “If I could have had the career I have today by staying in my country, believe me, I would have stayed there.” Instead she makes near annual trips back to Benin in her guise as a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador or simply as a returning Beninoise visiting relatives. That, at least, she will always make time for.

Angélique Kidjo
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