“As you go through life you’ll see there is so much that we don’t understand; and the only thing we know is things don’t always go the way we plan…we are more than we are, we are one.” These are the lyrics of a song that gladdens the souls of many-old and young alike- and makes you want to leave it playing on repeat till you are ready to face the day.This is just one of the many great works by the gifted, ebullient and energetic African woman, one that discovered and maximized her God given talent at an extremely young age.
Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo; (Please be careful here, one name at a time, or better stick with Angelique Kidjo; it’s easier, I tell you) is one of Africa’s finest performers and song writers. The vivacious Grammy award winning Beninioise singer and activist, noted for her varied musical influences and eccentric music videos, was once described by the Time magazine as Africa’s premier diva. The British Broadcasting Corporation included Kidjo in its list of the African continent’s 50 most iconic figures, The Guardian has listed her as one of their Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World and Kidjo is the first woman to be listed among “The 40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa” by Forbes Magazine. She was described by the Daily Telegraph in London as “The undisputed queen of African music” during the 2012 Olympic Games River of Music Festival. In March 2013, National Public Radio [NPR] in America, called her “Africa’s greatest living diva.”
Kidjo was born was born on 14 July 1960 in Cotonou, Benin. Her father was a Banjo player and her mother, a choreographer and a clarinet player was a great inspiration and role model.
By the time she was six, Kidjo was a star in her mother’s theatre troupe, giving her an early appreciation for traditional music and dance. She was never one to overlook opportunities however small. kidjo joined her school band, Les Sphinx, and found success as a teenager with her adaptation of Miriam Makeba’s “Les Trois Z”, which played on national radio. She recorded the album ‘Pretty’ with the Cameroonian producer Ekambi Brilliant and her brother Oscar. It featured the songs “Ninive”, “Gbe Agossi” and a tribute to the singer Bella Bellow, one of her role models. The success of the album opened doors for her to tour all over West Africa. The unending political conflicts in Benin prevented her from being an independent artist in her own country and led her to relocate to Paris in 1983. There was an intense pressure at that time on musicians to sing about communism, an idea thought to influence the people and make them speak in favour of communism, which Kidjo saw as highly unacceptable. In her words; “one thing that I said my music will never do is to praise an ideology, and a political ideology, so the reason to move was obvious. If I didn’t move and stayed there and expressed the way I felt about it, I’d put myself and my parents, and my family in danger, so I had to move”.
Although Paris would become her land of promise, she still had several challenges and few obstacles; the most prominent of all was the need to make some extra cash, which led her to take up several jobs at the same time to be able to pay her tuition. Down the line, she enrolled in a music school; CIM, where she met and eventually married the love of her life Jean Hebraile with whom she composed most of her music. The tables quickly turned for someone who was always relegated and had a near permanent spot as a backup singer in local bands. In 1985, she became the shining star of the well-known Euro-African jazz/rock band Jasper van’t Hof’s Pili Pili. By the end of the 1980s, Kidjo had become one of the most popular live performers in Paris and recorded a solo album called Parakou for the Open Jazz Label.
Kidjo has an almost endless list of productions; she is also involved in several humanitarian works and has remained UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. The issue of education is one very dear to her, “For me, education is very crucial because everything goes with it, like health, politics and development. Young people are the hope of my continent, when I watch the children of Africa, all dreams seem possible; one day education and good health will allow my Continent to rise. I am sure of this.”
She partnered with Mary Louise Cohen and John Philips to bring to existence The Batonga Foundation, which gives girls the opportunity of having a secondary and higher education, to enable them take the lead in changing Africa. The foundation is doing this by granting scholarships, building secondary schools, increasing enrolment, improving teaching standards, providing school supplies, supporting mentor programs, exploring alternative education models and advocating for community awareness of the value of education for girls.
This Diva has recorded songs for various movies, documentaries, programs and TV shows like; Ace Ventura with Jim Carrey, Sahara with Penelope Cruz, Six feet under, Without a trace, Bimboland with Gerald Depardieu, The truth about Charlie, to mention a few. She has also done countless stage performances all over world with international music greats such as the performance on April 30, 2012; Kidjo was part of the International Jazz Day organized by UNESCO at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York City, with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Bennett, Shaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Hugh Masekela and many others.
On March 8, 2013, on International Women’s day Angelique performed alongside Fatoumata Diawara at the Royal Festival Hall in London for the Women Of The World Festival organized by the SouthBank Centre.
From the days of Lion King and up till the present time, Kidjo continues to shine, bright as a diamond.