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Kidjo, Angelique (Benin)  
Angelique Kidjo

KIDJO grew up in Ouidah, Benin, a country in West Africa that sits snugly between Togo and Nigeria. She was born into a musical family; her mother is a choreographer and director of a theater group, her brothers are instrumentalists and at the age of six she was singing and dancing in her mother's company and later joined her brothers' group, the Kidjo Brothers Band, where she sang a variety of Benin-style songs.

Growing up in Benin exposed her to a rich variety of music. She was heavily influenced by the traditional folk styles and love songs of the country - epic songs full of allusions to the history of the villages and the rituals and voodoo ceremonies of the older generation - but, perhaps more importantly, she was listening to the new urban African music percolating up from South Africa and the Westem songs ranging from James Brown, Aretha Franklin to Jimi Hendrix that she heard on the radio. The formidable South African vocalist Miriam Makeba was a great influence on the young Kidjo, so much so that Angelique, who was already making a name for herself, recorded an adaptation of a Makeba song for Benin radio. Her first hits followed and she toured the Ivory Coast.

It wasn't until Kidjo made the trip to Europe, however, that her career came alive. It was Cameroonian producer, Ekambi Brilliant, who suggested that Angelique move to Paris to record and the singer left Benin for Europe. Paris in the Eighties was the breeding ground for the new African music. African artists, freed from the constraints of African tradition yet incorporating their roots with Western styles, were generating revolutionary sounds. Delicately plucked guitars were mixing with rock drums and lyrics were tackling more worldly issues. Makossa from Cameroon, soukous from Zaire and mbalax from Senegal was being injected with a new attitude and was taking over the dancefloors. Kidjo was in her element.

When she first arrived she sang and recorded with a group called Alafia and then joined the jazz- tinged band, Pili Piii. She later recorded two jazz albums with Pili Pili and played with them at the Montreux Festival in 1986. In the same year she joined forces with bass player and composer Jean Hebrail, and together they worked on their own music. Through regularly working at the Baiser Sale in Paris she also met many African and Antillean musicians and was able to form her own group and release her first solo album, Parakou.

Parakou is an album that bubbles with makossa, zouk, soul and reggae rhythms, pinned around traditionally-styled lyrics and melodies, with Kidjo's powerful voice ringing throughout the tracks. Not content to rest on her successful beginnings though, Angelique wanted to push her music even further and integrated the styles even more closely on her second album, Logozo, which was released on Mango Records.

Genre: African
Angelique Kidjo (c) S. Gordon 2003

Logozo, recorded in Miami, is state of the art Afro-funk. It mixes driving dance rhythms and punchy grooves with infectious melodies and sophisticated instrumentation. And if the music wasn't enough, the grand master of world music, Manu Dibango added his curly saxophone lines on a couple of tracks as did jazz sophisticate Branford Marsalis. With all its modern fluency, Kidjo didn't forget her roots and added a traditional Benin acappella song and a commanding version of the well known African traditional song Malaika.

The songs also highlighted the breadth of her vocals. This album, produced by Miami Sound Machine's Joe Galdo and released in the autumn of 1991, propelled her into the limelight and projected her as a major force in African music as well as an artist who could be enjoyed outside the world music arena. A successful European tour, an Australian tour where Logozo achieved Top 40 status, and dates in the States followed as well as an appearance on the renowned national U.S. TV programme Tonight Show.

With all this behind her, Angelique Kidjo is now concentrating on the release of her third LP, Aye. As with her other albums, she sings in her native language, Fon, rather than English or French, asserting that the spirit and sentiment of her music will come through her delivery, needing no translation.
Johannesburg, 2000 at Kora awards
However, Aye also has two songs sung in Fela Anikulapo Kuti's Nigerian language, Yoruba, It is her most sophisticated disc to date, being recorded at Paisley Park in Minneapolis and at studios in both Paris and London.

Produced by Will Mowat of Soul II Soul fame and David Z, known for his collaboration with The Fine Young Cannibals and his engineering and production work with Prince, it is a seamless blend of driving funk, African cross-rhythms and dance beats topped with Kidjo's dynamic vocals and backed by a tight horn section.

From the opening Agolo, a motorinq voodoo-funk number to Idje Idje, a lovely waltzing ballad, Angelique charges the tunes with her effectively-simple melodies. Adouma (meaning Come and Get It, a typical Angelique sentiment) is a rich funky number, whilst Djan Djan is a foxy, more African-orientated tune, Houngbati is a lazy shuffling funk and Tombo has a wonderful folky guitar intro and theme. Subtle percussion rhythms pervade the tunes and a delicate guitar weaves through the mix with Jean Herbrail's bass sewing the whole affair together.

Though undoubtedly a hit on the dancefloors, the new album, Aye will take Angelique Kidjo out of the clubs and into the world arena. Always an artist who tackles serious social issues, Kidjo's lyrics touch on such topics as race, environment, homelessness and the need to integrate, in an earnest and sincere way.

To listen to Angelique Kidjo on record is enough but to see her live is where her talent is really revealed. On stage she kicks in with boundless energy and rips through her music with verve and enthusiasm, gyrating and wiggling her African dance steps throughout. Audiences at an Angelique Kidjo concert can rarely resist the chance to dance and let themselves go too.

Her music is one that uplifts and resounds with The richness of a variety of different cultures. Angelique Kidjo is a voice that demands to be heard.

text by Laura Connelly, provided by Mango records.

Contact Details:

For further information about Angelique Kidjo in Southern Africa:
tel +27 21 4220118 or e-mail Making Music Artist Agency
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