- © Nabil Elderkin
Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, known as Angélique Kidjo (July 14, 1960), is a Grammy Award–winning singer-songwriter and activist from Benin, noted for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos. Time magazine has called her "Africa's premier diva". The BBC has included Kidjo in its list of the African continent's 50 most iconic figures. The Guardian has listed her as one of its 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. The Daily Telegraph in London described her as "The undisputed queen of African music" during the 2012 Olympic Games River of Music Festival. In March 2013, NPR, National Public Radio in America, called her "Africa's greatest living diva". Kidjo is listed among the "2014 Most Influential Africans" by New African magazine. On June 6, 2013, Kidjo was elected vice-president of the Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d´Auteurs et Compositeurs (CISAC). She is an occasional contributor to the New York Times.
Her musical influences include the Afropop, Caribbean zouk, Congolese rumba, jazz, gospel, and Latin styles; as well as her childhood idols Bella Bellow, James Brown, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Miriam Makeba and Carlos Santana. She has recorded George Gershwin's "Summertime", Ravel's Boléro, Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" and the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter", and has collaborated with Dave Matthews and the Dave Matthews Band, Kelly Price, Alicia Keys, Branford Marsalis, Robbie Nevil, Philip Glass, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Carlos Santana, John Legend, Herbie Hancock, Josh Groban, Dr John, the Kronos Quartet and Cassandra Wilson. Kidjo's hit songs include "Agolo", "We We", "Adouma", "Wombo Lombo", "Afirika", "Batonga", and her version of "Malaika".
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.
In December 2014, Angélique Kidjo was chosen by Togolese magazine Africa Top Success as "African of the Year", competing against Isabel dos Santos, Lupita Nyong'o, Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, Fatou Bensouda and Koki Mutungi.
Kidjo was born in Cotonou, Benin. Her father is from the Fon people of Ouidah and her mother from the Yoruba people. She grew up listening to Beninese traditional music, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, James Brown, Manu Dibango, Fela Kuti, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Osibisa, and Santana. By the time she was six, Kidjo was performing with her mother's theatre troupe, giving her an early appreciation for traditional music and dance. She started singing in 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 allowed her to tour all over West Africa. Continuing political conflicts in Benin prevented her from being an independent artist in her own country and led her to relocate to Paris in 1983.
While working various day jobs to pay for her tuition, 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. Three Pili Pili studio albums followed: Jakko (1987), Be In Two Minds (1988, produced by Marlon Klein) and Hotel Babo (1990). 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 Blackwell's departure from the label. In 2000 she was signed in New York by Columbia Records, for which label she recorded two albums.
Her first album for Island Records was recorded between Miami and Paris and produced by Miami Sound Machine drummer Joe Galdo and features Branford Marsalis and Manu DiBango on saxophones. It was released worldwide in 1991 and reached number one on the Billboard World Music chart. Music videos for the singles "We We" and "Batonga" were released and Kidjo made her first world tour, appearing at many festivals and headlining the Olympia Hall in Paris on October 31, 1992.
Released in 1994, the album Ayé was produced by David Z at Prince's Paisley Park Studio in Minneapolis and by Will Mowat at Soul To Soul studio in London. It includes the single "Agolo", which gave Kidjo her first Grammy nomination.
Kidjo and Jean Hebrail traveled all over Benin in 1995 to record the traditional rhythms that would form the base for the Fifa album. Carlos Santana appears on "Naima", a piece Kidjo wrote for her daughter. The single "Wombo Lombo" and its video was a big success all over Africa in 1996.
In 1998, she started a trilogy of albums (Oremi, Black Ivory Soul and Oyaya) exploring the African roots of the music of the Americas.
Produced by Peter Mokran and Jean Hebrail, recorded in New York, Oremi is a collection of songs mixing African and African-American influences. Cassandra Wilson, Branford Marsalis, Kelly Price and Kenny Kirkland collaborated with Kidjo on this project. The opening track is a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child".
In 2002, Kidjo traveled to Salvador de Bahia to start recording the Axe percussion grooves for this album, based on Afro-Brazilian culture. She worked with songwriters Carlinhos Brown and Vinicius Cantuária. On the Brazilian version of the album Gilberto Gil joined her on "Refavela" and Daniella Mercury on "Tumba". Dave Matthews appears on the song "Iwoya".
Produced by Steve Berlin from Los Lobos and by the pianist Alberto Salas, released in 2004, Oyaya! mixes Latin and Caribbean music with African guitars. The French Guyanese Henri Salvador, who was 86 at the time of the recording, joined Kidjo on the song "Le Monde Comme un Bébé".
Angélique Kidjo released the album Djin Djin on May 1, 2007. Many guests appear on the album including Josh Groban, Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys, Joss Stone, Peter Gabriel, Amadou and Mariam, Ziggy Marley, and Branford Marsalis. The title refers to the sound of a bell in Africa that greets each new day. The album, produced by Tony Visconti, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music album and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding World Music album.
Õÿö, released in Europe on January 19, 2010 and in America on April 6, 2010, pays tribute to the music of Kidjo's childhood in Benin. It mixes traditional music, Miriam Makeba's songs, classic soul of the 1960s and '70s and even a Bollywood song. Dianne Reeves appears on Aretha Franklin's "Baby I Love You", Bono and John Legend on Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up, for which Kidjo recorded a video with the Fela! dancers and Roy Hargrove on Santana's Samba Pa Ti. Produced by Kidjo and Jean Hebrail, the album was arranged in conjunction with the Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke. Õÿö was nominated for Best Contemporary World Music Album for the 53rd Grammy Awards.
Spirit Rising, the live album from Kidjo's PBS Special performance, was released in North America on February 22, 2012. It features a collection of songs from her entire career played live in Boston with special guests Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend, Dianne Reeves, Branford Marsalis, Christian McBride and Josh Groban. She sings a version of "Redemption Song" with the Kuumba Singers.
On January 28, 2014, Kidjo released a new album, EVE, dedicated to the women of Africa, to their resilience and their beauty “Eve is an album of remembrance of African women I grew up with and a testament to the pride and strength that hide behind the smile that masks everyday troubles,” says Kidjo. She travelled to Kenay Benin, from South to North and back, armed with a six track field recorder, to capture the sweet rhythmic harmonies and chants of traditional women choirs. With the contribution of the Beninese percussionists from the Gangbe Brass Band, Kidjo laid the musical foundation of the album in New York with an ensemble of top session musicians—guitarist (and fellow Benin native) Lionel Loueke, guitarist Dominic James, drummer Steve Jordan, bass great Christian McBride—under the guidance of producer Patrick Dillett, a longtime collaborator of David Byrne. Helping the singer fulfill her vision on "Eve" are a host of exciting prominent newcomers to her musical circle, including guitarist and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend, Nigerian Folk singer Aṣa on “Eva”, legendary pianist Dr. John, who adds his New Orleans magic to “Kulumbu”; The Kronos Quartet and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, The traditional Congolese song “Bana” features the vocals of Kidjo’s mother Yvonne. The album debuted at number 1 in the Billboard World Music chart. EVE is nominated for Best World Music Album in the 57th Grammy Awards. The album EVE is #1 in the Top 12 of World Music albums for 2014 by Radio France Internationale. Its opening track, "M'Baamba", features in the New York Times′ "Top 10 songs of 2014" list.
With Rachel Wenrick, Kidjo has written a memoir entitled Spirit Rising. It was published by Harper Collins on January 7, 2014. Desmond Tutu wrote the preface and Alicia Keys the foreword. On the back cover, Bill Clinton is quoted as saying: “The only thing bigger than Angélique Kidjo’s voice is her heart. In this evocative memoir, Kidjo chronicles an inspiring life of music and activism, and raises a passionate call for freedom, dignity, and the rights of people everywhere.”
January 17, 2014, saw the premiere of IFÉ: Three Yoruba songs for Angelique Kidjo and the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg at the Philharmonie hall in Luxembourg. Philip Glass wrote the orchestral music based on three creation poems in Yoruba sung by Kidjo. In the program notes, Philip Glass says: "Angelique, together we have built a bridge that no one has walked on before."
Kidjo has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. With UNICEF, she has travelled to many countries in Africa. Reports on her visits can be found on the UNICEF site: Benin, Senegal, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Syria, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Haiti.
Along with Mary Louise Cohen and John R. Phillips, Kidjo 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.
She campaigned for Oxfam at the 2005 Hong Kong WTO meeting, for the their Fair Trade Campaign and travelled with them in North Kenya and at the border of Darfur and Chad with a group of women leaders in 2007 and participated in the video for the In My Name Campaign with will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas.
She hosted the Mo Ibrahim Foundation's Prize for Achievement in African Leadership in Alexandria, Egypt, on November 26, 2007, and on November 15, 2008, in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, on November 14, 2009, and in Mauritius on November 20, 2010. She hosted the "Africa Celebrates Democracy Concert" organized by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in Tunis on November 11, 2011, and sang at the Award Ceremony on November 12, 2011, also in Dakar on November 10, 2012, and Addis Ababa in November 2013.
Since March 2009, Kidjo has been campaigning for "Africa for women's rights". This campaign was launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
On September 28, 2009, UNICEF and Pampers launched a campaign to eradicate Tetanus "Give The Gift Of Life" and asked Kidjo to produce the song "You Can Count On Me" to support the campaign. Each download of the song donates a vaccine to a mother or a mother-to-be.
With Jessica Biel and Peter Wentz, Angélique Kidjo was a LiveEarth Ambassador for the 2010 Run For Water events.
Kidjo has recorded a video based on her song "Agolo" and on the images of Yann Arthus-Bertrand for the United Nations SEAL THE DEAL Campaign to prepare for the Copenhagen Climate Change summit.
The Commission of the African Union (AU) announced on July 16, 2010, the appointment of Angélique Kidjo as one of 14 Peace Ambassadors to support the implementation of the 2010 Year of Peace and Security programme.
She appears in the Sudan365: Keep the Promise video to support the peace process in Darfur.
She also supports the Zeitz Foundation, an organization focused on sustainable development and conservation.
In June 2010, she contributed the song "Leila" to the Enough Project and Downtown Records' Raise Hope for Congo compilation. Proceeds from the compilation fund efforts to make the protection and empowerment of Congo’s women a priority, as well as inspire individuals around the world to raise their voice for peace in Congo.
In 2011, Kidjo collaborated with Forró in the Dark and Brazilian Girls on the track "Aquele Abraço" for the Red Hot Organization's most recent charitable album Red Hot + Rio 2. The album is a follow-up to the 1996 Red Hot + Rio. Proceeds from the sales will be donated to raise awareness and money to fight AIDS/HIV and related health and social issues. Kidjo recorded a version of Fela Kuti's "Lady" with Questlove and Tune-Yards for the Red Hot Organization in 2012.
In September 2012, she was featured in a campaign called "30 Songs/30 Days" to support Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a multi-platform media project inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book.
On February 18, 2013, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Kidjo was the host of a night of celebration for the cultural heritage of Mali. The event included performances by many Malian artists.
On May 22, 2014, Kidjo met with First lady Michelle Obama to discuss international girls' education, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House.
On September 21, 2014, Kidjo was one of the endorsees of the People's Climate March. She joined the march in New York, along with Mary Robinson, and was interviewed by Amy Goodman for Democracy Now.
November 2014 saw Kidjo collaborating with many other artists in Band Aid 30, the 30th-anniversary version of the '80s supergroup.
In 1996, Angélique Kidjo performed in Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize Concert honoring Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta for their work in East Timor.
IN 1998, she was part of the Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair tour.
In 2002, she performed in Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize Concert honoring President Jimmy Carter.
In February 2003, she performed a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" at the famed Radio City Music Hall in New York City alongside Chicago blues guitar legend Buddy Guy and New York rock guitarist Vernon Reid (of Living Colour) in what would become part of Lightning In A Bottle: One Night In The History Of The Blues, a documentary about blues music that features live concert footage of other rock, rap, and blues greats.
In November 2003, she sang with Peter Gabriel and Youssou N'Dour at the Cape Town 46664 concert for Nelson Mandela's Foundation.
In May 2004, she performed at the Quincy Jones-produced concert in Rome called "We Are The Future" in front of 400,000 people. The show took place at the Circus Maximus with appearances by Oprah Winfrey, Alicia Keys, Andrea Bocelli, Herbie Hancock and other international stars.
In 2005, Kidjo appeared at the Africa Unite Live concert in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a concert to celebrate Hon Bob Marley's 60th birthday, and was a featured speaker at the conference of African Unity held along with the concert.
In March 2005, she appeared at the Africa Live concert in Dakar along with many great African stars in front of 50,000 people.
In June 2005, she was part of the Live 8 concert, Eden Project hosted by Angelina Jolie in Cornwall, UK.
In 2007, she covered John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" for the CD Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur.
In 2007, she toured North America extensively with Josh Groban's "Awake" show.
On July 7, 2007, Kidjo performed at the South African leg of Live Earth.
Annie Lennox has joined forces with Kidjo and 22 other female artists to raise the awareness of the transmission of HIV to unborn children in Africa.
Kidjo was also a judge for the 7th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
Kidjo performed at the 75th Birthday Celebration of Quincy Jones at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 2008.
She made her Carnegie Hall debut in New York on November 1, 2008.
Her Royal Albert Hall debut in London was on November 26, 2008, along with Hugh Masekela for the "African Stars" concert benefitting VSO.
She appears on the "Price of Silence" video produced by Amnesty International to celebrate the 60 years of the Declaration of Human Rights.
Kidjo made her Sydney Opera House debut in Australia on April 12, 2009.
Kidjo appeared in the theatrical performance of Storie fantastiche dal delta del Niger by Raffaele Curi for the Alda Fendi Experimenti Foundation in Rome in April 2009.
Also in April 2009, Kidjo performed at Africa Day in The Hague, Netherlands, showing her commitment to poverty reduction and supporting the work of the Evert Vermeer Foundation and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation. Kidjo commented, “In the fight against poverty you need organisations like SNV and the Evert Vermeer Foundation. SNV with expertise on the ground and EVF convincing politicians to do more on sustainable development.” In July 2009, Kidjo became a member of the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation International Advisory Board.
In July 2009 she sang a duet with Alicia Keys at Radio City Hall in New York for the 46664 concert for Nelson Mandela's Foundation.
On September 25, 26 and 27, 2009, the Festival D'Ile De France in Paris asked Kidjo to curate a tribute to her idol Miriam Makeba at the Cirque d'hiver. She invited Rokia Traoré, Dobet Gnahoré, Sayon Bamba Camara, Vusi Mahlasela, Asa and Ayo. Kidjo curated another version of the same show at the Barbican in London on November 21, 2009, with Baaba Maal replacing Rokia Traoré.
On December 4, 2009, in Cape Town, South Africa, she performed her song "Agolo" at the Final Draw of the Fifa World Cup 2010.
On February 15, 2010, Kidjo performed in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics Games at the Place De La Francophonie.
On February 28, 2010, she performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Los Angeles Philharmonic concert hall designed by Frank Gehry.
On June 10, 2010, she was part of the Official Kick-Off Celebration Concert of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, along with John Legend, Hugh Masekela, Shakira, Alicia Keys, Juanes and Black Eyed Peas.
On June 17, 2010, she performed at Les FrancoFolies de Montréal - the Montreal Francofolies festival of French-language music.
On August 30, 2010, Kidjo sang at the 30th Anniversary celebration of Solidarnosc in the Polish city of Gdansk produced by Bob Wilson and Hal Willner featuring Philip Glass, Marianne Faithfull, Rufus Wainwright and Macy Gray.
On November 11, 2010, Kidjo presented her "Sound Of The Drum" show at Carnegie Hall. The sold-out concert featured special guests Youssou N'Dour, Omara Portuondo, Dianne Reeves and guitarist Romero Lubambo and told the story of the African roots of the music of the diaspora.
From December 10 until December 19, 2010, Kidjo participated to the Fesman 2010, the World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, Senegal. The Festival is the third edition of a festival devoted to the African culture all over the world.
Kidjo was one of the performers at the BET Honours Awards in February 2011
On June 8, 2011, Kidjo performed her most famous songs with the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra at the Philharmonie Luxembourg Hall.
On October 1, 2011, she created a special concert based on Beninese traditional songs with guest guitarist Lionel Loueke for the "Heroic Africans" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
On October 27, 2011, Kidjo performed at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Qatar, following the screening of Mama Africa, a documentary about Miriam Makeba's life.
On December 10, 2011, Kidjo sang "Malaika" in Oslo at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman. Kidjo also performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert the next day along with Janelle Monae, Evanescence, Sugarland, Jill Scott and many others. The event was hosted by Helen Mirren and Rosario Dawson.
On February 17, 2012, Kidjo performed for the opening of the Carnival of Recife, Brazil with Nana Vasconcelos and Maestro Forro
On February 28, 2012, Kidjo created, together with the Italian Mission, a special concert called "Raise your Voice to End Female Genital Mutilation" at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York City.
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, Terrence Blanchard, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Tony Bennett, Shaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Hugh Masekela and many others.
Kidjo sang "Blewu", "Redemption Song" and "Toast to Freedom" at the "Electric Burma" concert in Dublin on June 18, 2012, honoring Aung San Suu Kyi. The concert was organized by Amnesty International and also featured Bono, Damien Rice, Vanessa Redgrave and many others.
On October 9, 2012, Kidjo sang for the One World Concert in Syracuse, NY, honoring the Dalai Lama. The Concert was organized by the Syracuse University and featured also Dave Matthews, Swizz Beatz, Natasha Bedingfield, David Crosby, Counting Crows, Roberta Flack, Nelly Furtado, A. R. Rahman. Phil Ramone served as music producer and Whoopi Goldberg as MC. Kidjo sang "Move On Up" and also "True Colors" as a duet with Cyndi Lauper.
On December 6, 2012, Kidjo joined the Alicia Keys's Keep A Child Alive Black Ball in Harlem at the Apollo Theatre along with Jennifer Hudson, Bonnie Raitt and Brittany Howard. Oprah Winfrey and Angelique Kidjo were honored for their humanitarian work at the ceremony. She sang "Pata Pata", "Afirika" and "Djin Djin" as a duet with Alicia Keys.
On March 8, 2013, International Women's day, Kidjo performed along with Fatoumata Diawara at the Royal Festival Hall in London for the Women Of The World Festival organized by the SouthBank Centre.
On September 13, 2013, Kidjo sang at the legendary Rock in Rio Festival with the rock band Living Color.
On May 14, 2014, Kidjo sang at the famous Brazilian music award show "Prêmio da Música Brasileira" at the Teatro Municipal in Rio De Janeiro.
On November 5, 2014, Kidjo presented her "Mama Africa" tribute concert to Miriam Makeba at Carnegie Hall. The sold-out concert featured special guests Laura Mvula, Ezra Koenig and Vusi Mahlasela and was introduced by Whoopi Goldberg.
Kidjo also recorded songs for various movies, TV shows and documentaries, among them:
Kidjo has appeared on
She was interviewed by David Frost for Al Jazeera in 2008 and Christine Amanpour for CNN in 2009, 2012 and 2014. She was the host of the Tavis Smiley Show on PBS in March 2010 and February 2014 and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in July 2010.
Grammy nominations include the Best Music Video of 1995 and Best World Music Album in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2010, 2014 and 2007, which she won.
Angélique Kidjo is the 4th laureate of the Antonio Carlos Jobim Award (2007). Created in 2004 on the 25th anniversary of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, each year the award is given to an artist distinguished in the field of world music whose influence on the evolution of jazz and cultural crossover is widely recognized.
Angélique's music has been remixed by famous producers including Norman Cook ("We We") and Tricky ("Agolo"). Several of her singles have reached the Billboard Dance/Club Play chart. In 1996, Junior Vasquez remixes of her song "Wombo Lombo" brought the song to Number 16. In 2002, King Britt remixes of her single "Tumba" helped the song reach Number 26. "Agolo" was remixed by Mark Kinchen, "Shango" was remixed by Junior Vasquez, and "Conga Habanera" was remixed by Jez Colin. "Salala" from, Djin Djin, was remixed in 2007 by Junior Vasquez and Radioactive Sandwich.. "Move On Up" was remixed by Radioclit, the team from the Very Best.
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