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Angélique Kidjo is one of the African singers with more charm, charisma and performance power. The direct rhythms, strong, energetic, taken from the traditions of her homeland, Benin (Western Africa), are mingled in a subtle way with the sounds of reggae, samba, funk, gospel, zouk and many more. From this fusion a new rhythm is born that has the unmistakable stamp of Angélique Kidjo with touches of sensuality and dynamism contributed by her voice, a voice with that soul music quality that places her among the best female vocalists of the world, such as Miriam Makeba, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald.
On stage is where Kidjo lets loose her personality. Small, strong, agile, dynamic, she is a magnificent dancer. With her very short hair style, she is a real version of the "postmodern" African woman. In addition, she has the gift of communicating with her audience, a gift that is transmitted just as well live as on her CDs. "Even when I am singing alone in my own studio, I imagine that I am with my audience."
Kidjo was born in Cotonou and was raised in Quidah, a small coastal city of Benin, a country that harbors numerous cultures. The main language of Benin is Fon, the language that Angélique uses more often when she sings, although she also sings in English, a language that she speaks with fluency, as well as French.
Kidjo comes from a family with nine siblings, who have an open mind about international music. Her mother, a choreographer and theatrical director, has had a profound influence in the life of Angélique, who used to act in her mother's plays when she was a little girl.
Traditional music was not the only kind of music that the young Angelique used to listen to. Benin, in the 1970s was open to numerous styles: salsa, Zairean (Congolese) rumba, makossa from Cameroon, soul, funk, Gospel... even Arabic and Indian music was available. Her brother, a guitarist, introduced her to the sounds of Santana and they memorized his songs.
When she was still an adolescent, Kidjo began to tour Benin performing at local festivals and on the radio. She was one of the few female artists doing this. People in Benin didn't look kindly to women who tried to make a professional living from singing. "It was so hard. I really had to fight."
Miriam Makeba, the South African singer, was one of her main idols and Kidjo performed some of her songs, like the Swahili ballad Malaika.
Perhaps Kidjo has inherited the warring spirit of the Amazons, those warring women of the old Fon Kingdom, from which some of her ancestors came from. This same spirit makes Angélique absolutely uncompromising regarding her principles and she is ferociously independent.
She moved to Paris in 1983, where she found a melting pot of music. Many of the most famous West African musicians, such as Salif Keita and Manu Dibango, were also in Paris, either recording albums or living there. African musicians mixed with Caribbean, French and American musicians. The result was an explosion of hot rhythms and a crossed fertilization of world-beat styles that found an echo in the in the musical experience of Kidjo and created the most appropriate environment so that she could develop her own style.
"Some call it afro-funk, they can call it whatever they want, but it is really difficult to classify my music within only one style. Even when I use my own traditional music I don't try to recreate just only style but rather I mix it all."
Kidjo took advantage of her stay in Paris to enroll in a jazz school. "There, I was taught many things, I improved my tone and I learned flexibility for my voice." It was an important element for someone whose native language is Fon, which is tonic, with a soft oscillating musical profile.
Angélique joined a Dutch jazz group, Pili Pili, with which she recorded two albums. Together they participated at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1987. That same year she met Jean Hebrail, a French bassist and composer, whom she married sometime later. The four albums by Kidjo are the result of their musical collaboration. "We are the perfect team, he has the patience of working the ideas in the computer. I, however, want to go very quickly in case I forget any idea."
During 2001, Kidjo started to work on her new album, as of yet un-titled, drawing connections between Benin and music of Bahía, Brazil. "For the new album, I went to Brazil and wrote songs with Carlinhos Brown, and Vinicius Cantuaria, and I am covering a song by Gilberto Gil, which he wrote after traveling to Benin." The album also features drummer Ahmir Thompson, from the Roots, and Romero Lumbambo, the Brazilian guitar master, along with African and Bahianese players. "The concept of the album is based on my research into truth and the idea of bringing people together through music."
Angelique Kidjo won her 2nd Grammy for her 2014 album Eve.
Kidjo's 2015 album "Sings", produced by Kidjo and long-time production partner Jean Hebrail, presents Kidjo's collaboration with the 110 piece Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, led by renowned conductor and composer Gast Waltzing. Kidjo recreates nine classic songs from her 24 year repertoire and two new songs ("Otishe" and "Nanae" from the Eve sessions), combining European classical traditions with the powerful rhythmic sounds of her native Benin. Together with the orchestra, Kidjo's additional musicians include Christian McBride and Massimo Biolcati on upright basses; Lionel Loueke, Dominic James and David Laborier on guitars; Magatte Sow, Crespin Tpikiti and Benoit Avihoue on percussion; Tuelo Kgobokoe Tsholofetso and Mokubung, background vocals; and Gast Waltzing, flugelhorn solo on "Samba Pa Ti."
Parakou (Open/Island Records, 1989)
Logozo (Mango Records 539 918, 1991)
Aye (Mango Records 539 934, 1993)
Fifa (Mango Records 531 039, 1996)
Oremi (Island/Mango 524 625 Records)
Keep on Moving: The Best of Angelique Kidjo (Columbia 85758, 2001)
Black Ivory Soul (Columbia 85799, 2002)
Oyaya! (Sony, 2004)
Djin Djin (Razor & Tie, 2007)
Õÿö ( Razor & Tie, 2010)
Spirit Rising - Live from Guest street (Razor & Tie, 2012)
Eve (Savoy, 2014)
Sings, with the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra (429 Records, 2015)
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