AngÃ©lique Kidjo represents a beautiful fusion of world cultures, and her music is not easily pigeonholed. While her native African culture flows beautifully through all of her releases, each phase in her life and in her music represents different influences.
Kidjo lived her childhood in the West African country of Benin, where she sang with her family and, in addition to her native culture, her brothers taught her to love soul music and R&B. By the time she reached her teens she was a local star, and knew all the lyrics to James Brown’s greatest hits catalog.
When she was 23, Kidjo moved to Paris, and was immediately embraced by the city’s thriving Afro-Caribbean music scene. During these years, she focused on her songwriting, and supported both American jazz legend Nina Simone, as well as South African star Miriam Makeba. Since then she has worked with artists as varied as Carlos Santana (wait, who hasn’t worked with Santana?), Prince’s personal producer David Z (during her Afro-funk dance phase), and sax-player Branford Marsalis.
My favorite disc, I think, from AngÃ©lique Kidjo is her 2002 release Black Ivory Soul, which fuses Beninoise music with a Brazilian sound from the Salvador de Bahia region. You may have heard the track she does with Dave Matthews, Iwoya, which I think is excellent, but there are a number of very good tracks on this disc.
A playful and harmonic song. Don’t you wish you knew what they were saying? It just sounds jubilant.
- “Okan Bale“
This reminds me of water. Kidjo wrote it in Brazil, “facing the sea.”
AngÃ©lique and Dave (who was born in South Africa) go head to head, complementing each other’s voices. When Kidjo asked Matthews to sing with her, he first said, “I’m not singing with you. You scare me to death.”
- “Ces Petits Riens“
Another Serge Gainsbourg cover! This one shows how beautifully her time in France has influenced her music.
As Nigel Williamson from UK’s The Times said, “File under Africa? File under Caribbean? Just file it under superb.”