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Angelique Kidjo: the diva from Benin carries along with her a fierce historical past

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Angelique Kidjo, the energetic singer-songwriter and activist from the Republic of Benin, represents a uncommon African phenomenon.

In lots of respects, she belongs to the illustrious musical lineage of “Mama Africas” – the likes of South Africa’s Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Cape Verde’s Cesaria Evora and Mali’s Oumou Sangare.

These highly effective maternal personages are distinctive for his or her regal bearing, a grand sense of accountability in sharing Africa’s cultural heritage, and defending the dignity of the African girl. They might not at all times articulate this political and aesthetic worldview in so many phrases, however their carriage says all of it.

A woman in African attire points her fingers to the room as she poses for a photo with a gold statue of a gramophone balancing on her head.

<span class="caption">Posing along with her 2020 Grammy.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">Amanda Edwards/Getty Pictures</span></span>

Mama Africas may very well be outlined by the power of their voices, their wealthy and vibrant cultural pedigree and their obligation to protect what has been handed over to them via centuries of toil, battle and inventive resilience.

Kidjo’s fame continues to develop globally, notably throughout Grammy season. Nominated for the Grammy Awards within the US 14 times since 1995, she lifted her first in 2008 and went on to win Finest World Music Album in 2015, 2016, 2020 and 2022 (when the title modified to Finest International Music Album).

Her 5 Grammys match the record of South Africa’s isiZulu a capella outfit Ladysmith Black Mambazo.


The 62-year-old West African pop star has jammed with music stars starting from Quincy Jones and Buddy Guy to Mavis Staples and Chaka Khan. Her debut album Parakou was launched in 1990, nevertheless it took her hit music Agolo for her to burst into world reckoning and galvanise the world’s dance flooring in 1994.

Within the Yoruba language “agolo” refers back to the metaphysical significance of time, a cyclical phenomenon conjoining life with dying – life being a present that should be cherished and lived correctly. Agolo was a fervent wail of catharsis from the womb of Africa, bearing swathes of historical past, struggling and defiance. It shook souls and moved toes via its rhythmic sense of elation and launch.

Within the video there’s an androgynous power concerning the artist with the carefully cropped hair. A suggestion that she’s possessed by the indefatigable endurance of an actual queen like Nzinga of Angola, Yaa Asantewaa of the previous Gold Coast or Amina of the Hausa kingdom of Zazzau. They needed to lead males to struggle, usually with nice success.

Nevertheless Kidjo, like her fellow Mama Africas, doesn’t bear arms in inscribing herself on the worldwide canvas of cultural manufacturing, which is as aggressive as another. She is from the territory of the controversial Agoodjies, the Amazons of Dahomey. In the course of the colonial period, they served because the king’s personal military and dominated the slave commerce in and round right now’s Benin. The Hollywood film The Woman King has revived consideration on the questions of their female energy and gender-blending energies.

It’s a fallacy to view femininity in a simplistic or one dimensional method. It’s each a number of and numerous and Kidjo appears to have been nurtured on this elementary philosophy.


A multi-genre artist, Kidjo sings conventional Benin folks songs, deep blues, fervid West African R&B, laborious rock and concrete membership bangers in a number of languages with Fon, Yoruba, French and English being her predominant modes of expression.

In individual, Kidjo is spry and compact; she radiates fierceness. At a pre-Grammy performance she as soon as galvanised a whole corridor of trade executives and music pundits. “That is too sleepy for me,” she mentioned, hopping off the stage and strolling into the viewers, led by her assured voice.

Her singing isn’t dreamy or silky like some phony, over-sexualised diva. Reasonably it acts as a gutsy surge of affirmation in the direction of visibility, justice and freedom.

She is outspoken in her perception that every one music comes from Africa, a lot carried with it by enslaved individuals. That Africa represents the guts of the blues and the numerous musical kinds it influenced and that her descendants have distributed it the world over, carrying with it pleasure, enlightenment and upliftment.


A few of Kidjo’s songs have fun historic types of African spirituality. Benin is famend for being an epicentre of spirituality, notably via Vodun, a polytheistic perception that serves a number of deities and emphasises the hyperlinks and continuities between girl and man, nature and divinity, life and dying, the ancestors and the residing.

On this, Kidjo’s aesthetic venture appears undeniably political, virtually in the identical manner that Makeba’s was. However, relatively than instantly focusing on established political establishments such because the United Nations to impact social change, as Makeba did, Kidjo goals for a revolution of the thoughts and spirit. It’s the form of method to be anticipated from one born and bred within the land of the loas, a pantheon of deities comprising Legba, god of the crossroads, amongst others.

Learn extra: 2022 Grammys: what Fela Kuti has to do with West Africa’s growing pop fame

Kidjo can be educated on the Ifa spirituality of the Yoruba individuals, to whom her mom belongs – a few of whom dwell in Benin.

When one thinks of Kidjo, one is struck by the exceptional power, depth and breadth of her artistic imaginative and prescient – as well as, after all, to her magnetic, majestic presence. Her rising world acclaim ought to come as no shock.

This text was up to date to mirror the end result of the 2023 Grammy Awards