Mother Nature

Angelique Kidjo and nature have a very close relationship. Not only because the African artist is an honest, consistent and committed environmentalist, but also because nature expresses itself through her and her art. Anyone who has seen her even once on stage, even for a few minutes, knows that Angelique Kidjo is not just another artist; she is explosive, unstoppable, powerful, energetic, passionate. And above all, she brings Africa to the stage, and the weight of its emotions, drama, joy, problems and life. It is an Africa she was born to, in Benin, at the dawn of the 1960s, in a poor family in which art reigned supreme, her mother a choreographer and actress and brother a musician. And so, young Angelique dedicated herself to dance and music, finding her way in a country that is incredibly rich in cultural diversity, being populated by more than forty ethnic groups, many of whom speak different languages. Angelique sings in Ron, her native language, as well as in Yoruba and French, Benin’s official language. She slowly built up a good deal of success in the 1970s, at home and in other African countries, from Togo to the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso to Cameroon. It was in Cameroon that she met Ekambi Brillant, a producer and musician who began to collaborate with her and urged her to go to France to find fortune. In Paris, her adventure in the world of music entered a new phase, in which Angelique greatly expanded her musical background, where she was introduced to jazz and pop, and got to know big stars who appreciated her vocality, style and energy, the beginning of a decade of collaborations, experiments, concerts and dreams. This all culminated in 1990 with her first solo album, which propelled her into an even greater and truly limitless universe.

Since then, Angelique Kidjo’s career and art have followed a thousand paths. The Beninese artist has become a citizen of the world. Collaboration with stars of jazz, pop, rock, and African music have popped up, compiling a very long list of artists who have sought her out and loved her and wanted to play and sing with her, including Manu Dibango, Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy, Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel, Branford Marsalis, Tony Allen, Youssou N’Dour and Italy’s Carmen Consoli, with whom she recorded the beautiful Mother Earth. She has received awards, accolades, triumphs, won four Grammys and played on all five continents, finding success everywhere. But above all, she has become one of the most original artists of our time, able to move with incredible confidence and creativity between rock, jazz, electronica, pop, polyrhythm, funk, dance, while always remaining deeply African. She can fill the music of the Kronos Quartet as well as she does the Talking Heads, Celia Cruz or Philip Glass, and stands by the side of artists as they make music history, like Dr. John and John Mayer.

And that’s not all: Angelique Kidjo is one of the most committed artists socially. It is not just a matter of words or attitudes. She doesn’t separate the artist from the woman. She fights daily for peace and in defence of the environment, minorities, and women, with an inclusive and unified message that is closely connected to her music. She is a UNICEF ambassador, an animator of Batonga, her association works to provide primary and secondary schooling of Africans girls and has been a lifelong proponent of environmental protection. Angelique Kidjo speaks mostly about women in Africa, as she did beautifully in her autobiography, ‘Spirit Rising,’ which was dedicated to the younger generation, to those who will not only inherit the world but who, as she claims, will change Africa: “I hope this story can inspire many girls in Africa to insist on truly dreaming. Their dreams and strength are what will change the continent, my heart tells me so.” Angelique dreams, but she knows well that there are huge difficulties, that poverty is the first problem to be addressed, “because it conditions everything,” she recalls, “first of all, health, both mental and physical, particularly of young people. And then it prevents access to education, a key element in the development of the whole continent, because those who have access to culture also have access to politics, and of course to democracy, which is an extraordinary instrument of freedom. I dream that it can finally change the narrative of Africa, which continues to be one of poverty and endless wars, which everyone accepts as the only face of the whole continent. On the contrary, Africa is full of different cultures, diversity, beauty, and wonders, which we Africans ourselves often don’t know about, and in many ways, no one wants that to happen because if we knew how to tell our story and our reality well, with our own means, our own ways and our own content, things could really change. But cultural colonialism there has never ended. So many, too many countries are not really independent.”

It is no coincidence that Time, a few months ago, named her one of the 100 most influential personalities of 2021, or that the BBC did the year before. To celebrate the anniversary of Benin’s independence, the New York Times put her on the front page. Amnesty International honoured her as one of the most influential activists in defence of personal freedoms. Angelique Kidjo proves, with her life and her commitment, that music and art can be a beautiful tool for peace, for including life, for personal and collective human growth. Passion and nature, politics and life, freedom and art meet in Angelique Kidjo’s music, which is made of flesh and blood, of heart and poetry, of rhythm and warmth. It is rooted in an ancient Africa, but also has the strength of one who knows how to live today and imagine the future. It is music for the body and mind, which finds its manifestation in the expressive power of her singing, in her stage presence, in the power of her dance, which over the years have captured the attention of millions of spectators at her shows, who have experienced how powerfully alive her art is, fully charged with beauty and feeling, an unstoppable flow of emotions and thoughts, experimentation and fun, anger and visions. It is the highly original and personal music of one of the greatest artists of our time.

Ernesto Assante