A couple of months ago, a good friend of mine, who once worked in Benin as a Forestry expert for the Peace Corps, introduced me to the music of Angélique Kidjo, a Grammy Award–winning Beninese singer-songwriter and activist, noted for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos.
Time Magazine has called Kidjo “Africa’s premier diva” and the BBC has included her in its list of the African continent’s 50 most iconic figures. Kidjo’s musical influences include the Afropop, Caribbean zouk, Congolese rumba, jazz, gospel, and Latin styles; as well as her childhood idols Bella Bellow, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Miriam Makeba and Carlos Santana.
Kidjo studied music at the CIM, a reputable jazz school in Paris where she met and married musician and producer Jean Hebrail, with whom she has composed most of her music. She started out as a backup singer in local bands. In 1985, she became the frontsinger of the known Euro-African jazz/rock band Jasper van’t Hof’s Pili Pili. By the end of the 1980s, she had become one of the most popular live performers in Paris and recorded a solo album called Parakou for the Open Jazz Label. She was then discovered in Paris by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who signed her in 1991. She recorded four albums for Island until Chris Blackwell’s departure from the label. In 2000 she was signed in New York by Columbia Records.
Below is a video my friend sent me, since he knows I have been fascinated for years with goddess of the sea, Iemanjá.
Kidjo is fluent in Fon, French, Yorùbá and English, and sings in all four languages; she also has her own personal language, which includes words that serve as song titles such as “Batonga”. “Malaika” is a song sung in the Swahili language. Kidjo often utilizes Benin’s traditional Zilin vocal technique and jazz vocalese. She now resides in New York City, New York, United States.
Kidjo has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002 and she founded the Batonga Foundation, which gives girls a secondary school and higher education so that they can take the lead in changing Africa. The foundation is doing this by granting scholarships, building secondary schools, increasing enrollment, 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.
Benin (West Africa), is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, though the seat of government is in Cotonou, the country’s largest city. Benin covers an area of approximately 42,000 square miles, with a population of approximately 9 million. Benin is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture, with substantial employment and income arising from subsistence farming.The official language of Benin is French, however, indigenous languages such as Fon and Yoruba are commonly spoken. The largest religious group in Benin is Roman Catholicism, followed closely by Islam, Vodun and Protestantism.