Kidjo, Angelique


Kidjo, Angelique
▪ 2003

      In early 2002 Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo enhanced her reputation as an international pop diva with the release of her sixth solo album—Black Ivory Soul—a dazzling excursion into Brazilian musical forms that deftly blended a Latin sound sensibility with traces of traditional West African rhythms. The success of this particular fusion came as no surprise to those who, on her previous albums, had witnessed Kidjo's remarkable marriage of diverse genres—including jazz, hip-hop, zouk, Zairean rumba, samba, salsa, funk, gospel, and Cameroonian makossa—to the sounds of her native Benin.

      Kidjo was born on July 14, 1960, in Ouidah, Dahomey, French West Africa (now Benin). Her father was a musician, and her mother worked as a choreographer–theatre director. Kidjo began performing in her mother's theatre troupe at the age of six and as a teenager sang with her brothers in their rock–rhythm-and-blues band. By age 20 she was a professional singer, and in 1988 she recorded her first album, Pretty. In 1983 Kidjo had moved to Paris, where she found a veritable melting pot of artists and a number of musical influences with which to experiment; she also met French producer, composer, and bassist Jean Hebrail, whom she later married. Her first years in Paris were spent studying jazz and performing with various local groups. After teaming with Dutch pianist Jasper Van't Hof, she sang with and co-wrote songs for his jazz group, Pili-Pili.

      After several years Kidjo left Pili-Pili and recorded Logozo (1991), which was produced by Miami Sound Machine's Joe Galdo and featured jazz musician Branford Marsalis and African artists Manu Dibango and Ray Lema. Logozo was an international success and garnered Kidjo airplay on commercial radio stations in the U.S. The lyrics to her songs were universal, however; they dealt with homelessness, the environment, freedom, and integration. Her next album, Ayé (1993), was produced by Prince associate David Z and Will Mowat of the rhythm-and-blues group Soul II Soul and helped to further expand Kidjo's fan base. On Fifa (1995) Kidjo enlisted the aid of more than 100 musicians and performed some of the songs in English instead of in Fon, her native language and customary singing language of choice. (She also sang in Yoruba and French.) Her album Oremi (1998) featured a reinterpretation of Jimi Hendrix's “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and guest spots by jazz singer Cassandra Wilson and rhythm-and-blues singer Kelly Price.

      Kidjo spent much of 2002 on tour after the release of Black Ivory Soul. In addition to her recording career, Kidjo was an outspoken advocate of the need for an education, and in July UNICEF named her one of its special ambassadors.

Shanda Siler

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Universalium. 2010.

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