ANGELIQUE KIDJO/ “Angelique Kidjo Mixtape”
Once upon a time (meaning pre-Katrina) I was invited to do a poetry performance at a major festival in Chicago. Grant Park, in the summertime, beaucoup people, brilliantly radiant weather. There was so much afrocentricity in the air, static electricity was jumping off everybody you touched. I thought I would be in one of the medium-sized tents or perhaps in one of the ten-by-ten tents housing vendors. But lo and behold, some mis-organizer had other ideas, I was going to be on the main stage, right after somebody and right before Angelique Kidjo.
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out, my job was to entertain the crowd while the stage crew hustled off the preceding group’s set-up and prepared the stage for Ms. Kidjo. I forget what I recited but I did what I do. I must have done ok because I didn’t get booed and even received some applause during the set—applause at the conclusion, in this case, doesn’t count because my exit simply meant that the feature was about to enter stage left.
But this is not about me. What happen next was like somebody had shook up a magnum of warm champagne and popped the cork. From the moment Angelique bound on stage until her concluding number the energy level was so high she could have powered all the lights and equipment by herself.
She’s a little woman—what we used to call "a little piece of leather, well put together"—a compact whirling dervish with eye-popping dance routines. You looked at her and said (among other epithets) “God-damn, that girl can dance!”
I marveled at her stamina; in between songs she wasn’t breathing all hard or nothing. I fantasized about her physicality; what a lover she must be! I did all the shit that men do when they are over-impressed by a woman. Plus, I thanked whatever gods there be that I went on before her and not after her.
I’ve been looking and wishing, and hoping that someday, somehow, she would make a record that captured the excitement of her stage performances.
Meanwhile, half-a-decade ago, three or four weeks before Katrina hit, we posted a “Summertime” roundup featuring umpteen versions of the perennial song. The consensus of both Kalamu and Mtume is that Angelique had done the most innovative of all. And then last November 2009, I did a Mixtape of Jimi Hendrix covers and guess who was included in that roundup?
Now, although at this point it may not seem like there is a lot of rhyme and reason or consistency in terms of the opening paragraphs of this write-up, there really is a through-thread but it’s more like a weaved rope rather than a single fiber strand.
Over the years, Angelique Kidjo has earned the right to assume the mantle of Mama Africa that Miriam Makeba so ably wore. Both as an artist and as an activist, Angelique has been simply stellar.
I enjoy much of her music but none of her albums stuck with me all the way through. And then it struck me, I like a number of Angelique’s cover songs. And I knew why—it was because she was put an interesting twist on music I knew. Even when she didn’t sing them in English, I enjoyed the way she phrased. Plus, I have always like the bright, brassy tones of her voice, the way she rang out and above the accompanying music.
As I investigated more, I had to admit that a major part why I didn’t listen to her more often is because I am internationally illiterate. I don’t know any other language. Oh I know a phrase or two in a lot of languages and I am comfortable being around people who speak other languages, I just don’t personally have the facility.
Angelique on the other hand can come at you so many different ways, make you wanna holla, please, baby, please, baby, please, please, please I’m just a po’, ignant, negro trying to make it the best I can with the white man’s tongue twisted all up in my mouth. (Put me in mind of that famous question asked by a continental African to his long lost black American cousin: "what language do you speak at home?" Uh, ebonics?)
My deficiencies are one part of the equation of ignorance but there is more. As I started putting this Mixtape together—remember I had decided to focus on covers—I quickly realized that Angelique is the most serious pan-African singer currently working. Her albums are investigations of diverse African heritage musical cultures, including the major diasporan forces of: Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica and the United States.
Angelique has a trio of albums conceived as an investigative trilogy. She has recorded with musicians from all over the world. She has lived on the motherland in her home country of Benin, in Europe and currently makes her home in New York City. Others talk in the abstract about the connections and cross-references in the music, but Angelique makes multiple albums that sonically explore influences, conjunctions and root mutations and manifestations.
I almost decided to re-cast the Mixtape and do a pan-African emphasis but I didn’t and as a result you get this week’s "covers" Mixtape. I mentioned in passing that she is also an activist. Well, that’s a big part of her portfolio, especially work on the continent with women, children and youth. She’s a UN ambassador and is a tireless campaigner for humanitarian issues, all of which informs and influences her music.
In closing I would like to point to two aspects of her music. First, when she sings she is really, really strong with controlling her long tones. She can hit a note and hold it without quivering, or going off key. Her breath control is absolutely fantastic. Second, she has an astounding ear for re-arranging familiar music. Again, a lot of folk claim they do it, but there are few, if any vocalists covering as much of our music as does Angelique and certainly none as versatile and diverse as she is.
Her latest album, Oyo, is composed of songs she listened to when she was growing up—mainly music from other parts of Africa and from the United States. From Sidney Bechet to Jimi Hendrix, Miriam Makeba to Aretha Franklin, George Gershwin to U2, Curtis Mayfield to Bob Marley, plus many more. This small woman is a giant of our music, a veritable Amazon in covering the beauty and diversity of black music.
Enjoy (and be educated)—Angelique Kidjo.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Angelique Kidjo Mixtape Playlist
01 “Cold Sweet”
02 “Move On Up - Feat John Legend”
03 “I Got Dreams to Remember”
04 “Lakutshn Llenga”
05 “Petite Fleur”
06 “Baby I Love You - Feat Dianne Reeves”
Keep on Moving-Best of Angelique Kidjo
08 “Pearls (Duet With Josh Groban)
Oh Happy Day
09 “Redemption Song”
In The Name Of Love: Africa Celebrates U2
10 “Mysterious Ways”
12 “Samba Pa Ti - Feat Roy Hargrove”
13 “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”
This entry was posted on Monday, April 26th, 2010 at 3:05 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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