Funk and zouk
Angelique Kidjo is firmly on course for the big time but. as she explains to Sue Wilson. commercial success hasn’t eroded her social consience.
While the ﬂowering of the world music scene has proved that an audience exists for non-Western sounds and rhythms. few musicians from outside Europe or the US have as yet achieved the crossover to mainstream success. One who looks poised to do just that. however. is Angelique Kidjo. born in Benin (in French-speaking West Africa). now based in Paris. Her latest LP Logozo. released last year. is a seductively stylish fusion of African and Western dance rhythms— funk and zouk. makossa and jazz— overlaid with Kidjo's all-out vocals. plus a couple ofstirring traditional love songs to leaven the mix. Featuring the likes of Branford Marsalis. Ray Lema and Manu Dibango in the backing line-up. the album generated a flurry of intense media interest on its release last year. and was included in several music press ‘best of 1991‘ lists.
‘In Africa, singing is not a job, .it is part of tradition’
The steady upward curve of Kidjo‘s career is all the more impressive given that. as she has often pointed out, being African and female doesn‘t exactly smooth a path up the music-biz ladder. In addition to Western prejudices. she has had to contend with disapprobation from many of her compatriots. ‘In Africa. singing is not a job, it is part of tradition,‘ she has said. ‘When you are a woman earning money through music you are seen as a hooker, a junkie or both.‘ But such is Kidjo’s : energy and determination that it's hard to imagine anything stopping h‘er achieving her goals. She owes this strength ofcharacter. she says. to her unusually open-minded and supportive parents — ‘the fact that I‘m where I am today is due to them‘— who backed her unswervingly when, inspired by Miriam Makeba‘s example. she decided she wanted to be a professional singer. ‘When I started listening to modern music in the 70s. people like James Brown. Mahalia Jackson. the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. it seemed that it was only possible for white people, or black Americans, to. succeed in that world. Then I heard Miriam Makeba and it changed my whole way ofseeing music: I thought, if one African woman can do that. I can do it too.‘ Her first recording was a Makeba cover, and she pays tribute to her role-model on Logozo with a haunting rendition of‘Malaika‘.
Following the success of that vinyl debut she moved to Paris. studying at the CIM jazz school before joining the Afro-jazz band Pili Pili. with whom she recorded two albums. Her first solo LP,
Parakou. was picked up by Island’s Mango label, consolidating her growing reputation on the vibrant Parisian African music scene. and with Logozo she looks to be firmly on course for the big time.
Along her way Kidjo has fallen foul ofsome world music purists, who object to her amalgamation of high-tech Western dance styles
with African rhythms and melodies. but she dismisses such detractors with characteristic forthrightness. ‘Being an African singer can be very heavy to handle. because you're trying to bring people to be interested in your country. but at the same time you have people. the music police. who think that we African musicians have to be traditional and nothing else. Either we have to act like white people. or they want us to sing only traditional songs. dress like bush-women — they like the exotic part of it. [don't want to be involved in that kind ofshit; I'm not here to fulfil anybody‘s fantasies.
Commercial success hasn‘t eroded Kidjo‘s strong social conscience, and many of her songs deal with weighty topics like oppression. poverty and war — ‘You who remain indifferent before the children who are killed, remember that you are not immortal‘; ‘For the gentlemen who govern us. war is a high society game. but the real losers are never the players.‘ She is adamant. nevertheless, that she is not a ‘political' singer. ‘I'd rather say I‘m a humanist singer— politics means not telling the truth. having a politician's mouth. l'm somebody who likes to talk about things as they are: it's
Angelique Kidjo: ‘A seductively stylish fusion of Atrican and Western dance rhythms'
important for me because traditional music in Benin is like that. the singers in my country are there to talk about what's going on in society. to denounce things. to tell our story. So for rue. singing about war. about what's happening in the world. is just normal. it's not because I‘m setting out to write political songs.‘
While she has been accused of undermining her idealistic sentiments with her slick dance-floor sound. Kidjo counters that such criticism betrays an ignorance verging on racism. ‘Anyone who says that kind ofthing doesn‘t know anything about my traditional music. In my society. my culture. songs about any problem are rooted in a rhythm you can dance to. I want people to get a conscience about what‘s going on in the world. but I don't want anybody to feel guilty listening to my music — if you can dance to it and think about it at the same time. you have a good memory ofit. Then if you do something about it. you do it with much more sympathy and much more honesty than if somebody"s pushed you into it through guilt.‘
Angelique K 1'de plays the Trunm'ay on Mon 1/ .Ma V.
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