Those familiar with her work will find OYO, Angelique Kidjo’s new CD, to be familiar in style yet distinctive in content. While its title comes from the name of a 15th-Century West African empire, OYO’s music is both contemporary and international. Largely composed of covers, a set of varied yet consistently solid tunes, Angelique’s new effort runs the musical gamut incorporating elements from soul and funk, samba, reggae, salsa, jazz, gospel, zouk, makossa, and soukous. A lot of the reason for its diversity is likely tied to the singer’s background.
Currently a resident of New York City, Kidjo was born and raised in the West African country of Benin where she started singing at the tender age of six; she fled the then dictatorial, pseudo "Marxist-Leninist" nation to relocate in Paris in 1983. Her travails have undoubtedly played into her distinctive viewpoints. A goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and founder of the Batonga Foundation (www.batongafoundation.org), Angelique is known for her social activism, as anyone who has been to one of her concerts can attest.
Angelique has told the BBC that "When we realise that we are not so different from each other, because we have all the same concerns; we come all from a father and a mother, all the children of this planet are born in the same way. Wherever I go I do not take a stand as a person of color, I take a stand as a human being; it is as an artist that I speak to everyone. The color of a human being is not important for me. They are acts and the words that enable me to judge if a person deserves my consideration or my friendship. Considerations of colour are not important. Don't fear taking steps on what we can achieve together as human being on this planet."
Angelique caters to a large and varied number of audiences, and this album is a global album in the truest sense. Yet it still retains Kidjo’s trademark, readily identifiable singing and production style. Growing up, she reveled in the music of Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Otis Redding, Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix. These influences are more evident in this recording than any previous effort. Still, she also stays true to her roots as a listen to "Atcha Houn," a Beninese traditional song which she now begins concerts with, reveals. Numerous guest artists help her along. Afrobeat band Antibalas lends its horn section to her version of the Curtis Mayfield-penned soul classic "Move on Up." Special guests include trumpeter Roy Hargrove and vocalists Dianne Reeves, and John Legend. Other tracks range from a Bollywood tune to Aretha Franklin’s "Baby I Love You." While quite diverse and very, very pop, Kidjo’s singular style holds the entire mix together.