Joy to the World
Africa’s Angelique Kidjo shares a profound love of song through her creative and collaborative music.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Angelique Kidjo’s latest CD, Djin Djin, which just won the Grammy Award in the Best Contemporary World Album category, features an impressive parade of some of the music industry’s biggest names. The world music player’s release includes guest spots by pop singer Josh Groban, R&B crooner Alicia Keys, jazz saxophone player Branford Marsalis, neo-soul singer Joss Stone, reggae royalty Ziggy Marley and rock icons Peter Gabriel and Carlos Santana.
In the past, Kidjo has collaborated with other top-notch musicians like rocker Dave Matthews and jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson. From a tour stop in Iowa City, Kidjo, who was born and grew up in the West African country of Benin, describes via e-mail why she enjoys collaborating with others.
“In Benin, music is not just entertainment,” she says. “It is also the link that brings community together. Every time I come back to my hometown, my family is there to welcome me with dancing, singing and drumming. I love sharing my music; I feel like I am bringing them to my home and making them discover the richness of my culture. Also, I hope it creates music that has never been heard.”
Djin Djin’s mashup of Western and African music creates a compelling hybrid. The title track features a chanted African chorus, English verses sung by Keys and a Marsalis saxophone solo that snakes through the middle section of the song. Another great collaborative moment comes on the majestic “Salala,” which features the superb pairing of Gabriel and Kidjo’s vocals.
One unexpected gem on Djin Djin is a funky, wildly percussive take on The Rolling Stones’ rock classic “Gimme Shelter.” What really comes to light in this version is the song’s potent lyrics like the repeated lines: “Rape and murder/ It’s just a shot away.” Kidjo, who duets on the track with Stone, says bringing those lyrics to the forefront was one of her main intentions.
“The song was featured in the opening title of the movie The Departed,” she says. “And when we heard the lyrics, suddenly they sounded so modern and so perfect to describe the situation that so many people are in these days on my continent. I am sure those lyrics were not intended to be understood this way, but that is why my version is so different.”
Kidjo fled Benin in 1980 to escape the country’s oppressive government. Since then, she has lived in Paris and now she resides in New York City. Over the years, Kidjo has not forgotten her homeland and always has sought to put her country’s music into her songs to some extent. She also has founded The Batonga Foundation, an organization that seeks to help African girls receive a secondary education.
“My native country is always in my heart and in my inspiration,” she says. “After all these years traveling all over the world, I still sing most of my songs in the African languages I grew up speaking. I feel my mission is to bring a glimpse of the beauty of the African culture to the rest of the world.”
ANGELIQUE KIDJO plays 8pm Thursday, March 13, at the Sunset Center, located on San Carlos between Eighth and Ninth, Carmel. $37. 620-2048.