"When we realize 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 Kidjo in a BBC interview
Singing since she was six, Beninese native Angelique Kidjo has long been a consummate professional. Unlike many African musicians, Angelique speaks English quite well and, unlike most musical stars, she communicates directly and dynamically with her audience. As a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, Angelique caters to a large and varied number of audiences, and she has long been frank and passionate in her opinions. Angelique's songs are varied yet consistently solid. Her music meshes Beninean rhythms with elements of American soul and funk, samba, reggae, salsa, jazz, gospel, zouk, makossa, and soukous. While she mostly sings in Fon and Yoruba, she also does a few numbers in English.
Angelique proves herself to be true to form when she appears in May 2007 at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival. After being introduced by festival director Randall Kline, Angelique, who wears an orange suit along with a colorful shirt, snakes across the stage as the band (two guitars, drums, bass, two percussionists) move into high gear. She launches into Papa, from her new album Djin Djin (where her vocal stylings interface with the drummer), and then Aye, Aye - the title tune to her 1994 album and then sings the new CD's title track Djin Djin. Taking a breather, she addresses the audience. "How are we going to keep our identities in this global world? Are we going to go from country to country to see the same dress, the sane food? Unt uh. I don’t think so." She then exhorts the audience to dance, and a small flood gather at each side of the stage. Angelique launches into the reggae-tinged Arouna and then her tunes Iwoya, Salala, Sedjedo and We We follow.
Angelique then takes a pause to pontificate on the music establishment. "I"m going to piss off the purists of African music," she proclaims. "I'm from there, and even I don't know all the music from all the places. "She’s tired of having African music confined into a narrow category, and I think she has a great point. At this juncture, Angelique steps off stage to let her international cast of musicians - who hail from locales as diverse as Senegal, Guadeloupe, Brazil, and Surinam - shine on the tune Malaika. Kidjo returns, sans orange jacket, to play Lemanja and then her version of Rolling Stones classic Gimme Shelter, which is also from the Starbucks-distributed CD Djin Djin. Pearls, an English song about an impoverished Somali woman, could use better lyrics: "She lives a life she didn’t choose, and it hurts like brand new shoes." Highlights of the rest of the evening’s concert include Afirika, Agolo, the theme to the BBC series Everywoman, and the concluding tune of Tumba. During breaks between songs, Angelique talks about topics as diverse as Jimmy Carter’s dance moves, violence in the name of religion (she denounces it: "Leave me out of your mess!"), and even conducts a guessing contest as to which tune she’ll sing next. Following an enthusiastic response, Angelique returns for a long encore consisting of Emma and Batonga. Percussionist Ibrahim Diagne takes center stage here on the talking drum; members of the audience dance with him. Then, the two-hour performance draws to a celebratory finish.