Angélique Kidjo

Born : 14/07/1960 in Ouidah (Benin)
Country : Benin
Category : Composer / Female Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : world music

Following in the footsteps of internationally famous artists such as Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango, Youssou N’Dour and Mory Kanté, Angélique Kidjo is the latest star to have emerged from the hotbed of musical talent in Africa. After signing a recording contract with Island - an absolute blessing, as record deals are sadly all too rare an event for Angélique’s fellow musicians in Africa - the talented diva from Benin is now poised to take the world music scene by storm !

Following in the footsteps of internationally famous artists such as Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango, Youssou N’Dour and Mory Kanté, Angélique Kidjo is the latest star to have emerged from the hotbed of musical talent in Africa. After signing a recording contract with Island - an absolute blessing, as record deals are sadly all too rare an event for Angélique’s fellow musicians in Africa - the talented diva from Benin is now poised to take the world music scene by storm !

Angélique Kidjo was born on 14 July 1960 in Ouidah, a small harbour town on the coast of Benin (which at that time was still called Dahomey). Born into the Petah tribe, Angélique was soon baptised Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kango Manta Zogbin (a name which, roughly translated, means 'the blood of a lantern will not light a spark').

Young Angélique, who grew up with eight brothers and sisters, was brought up in a highly creative environment. Her mother, Yvonne Kidjo, was a renowned choreographer and theatre director who ran her own business. As for her father, Franck, when he was not working in the local post office he would devote every minute of his spare time to his hobbies : amateur photography and playing the banjo. Angélique was in contact with a wide variety of cultures and musical traditions from an early age, and her parents actively encouraged their daughter to learn several languages. (Angélique's mother tongue is Fon, but she speaks several other languages, many of which she has featured on her popular albums).

Following in the Kidjo family footsteps, Angélique began singing and dancing with her mother's theatre troupe at the tender age of 6. The young prodigy used to accompany the troupe on all their extensive tours, performing all over West Africa, and by the time Angélique reached her 9th birthday she had already established an excellent reputation. Angélique would briefly abandon her theatre career, returning to the classroom at the age of 9, but two years later the young girl would take time off from her school studies to join her brothers' group, performing lead vocals with the Kidjo Brothers Band. Working with her brothers not only gave Angélique a new form of live experience, it also opened up her ears to a new kind of music. For her brothers introduced her to rhythm'n'blues and taught her to sing the latest Afro-American soul sounds - Angélique would soon develop a veritable passion for soul music, learning every single one of James Brown's greatest hits by heart !

By the time she reached her teens Angélique Kidjo was already a star in her local region, her on-stage charisma and her exceptional voice having attracted the young singer an impressive following of fans. Around the age of 15 Angélique began to concentrate on her songwriting, drawing a great deal of inspiration from the work of her greatest idol, the South African singing star Miriam Makeba. Angélique would go on to form her own group at the lycée, and soon began performing locally with her group known as Les Sphinx. Angélique's first big break came in 1979 when a local radio station invited her to perform one of her songs on a daytime show. Angélique, who was a committed anti-apartheid campaigner, chose to perform one of the songs she had recently written about Winnie Mandela and the political struggle in South Africa.

Angélique records her début album "Pretty"

As a result of appearing on local radio, Angélique went on to meet the renowned Cameroonian singer and producer Ekambi Brillant who invited the young 20-year-old singer into the studio to record her debut album. Angélique ended up flying to Paris, for the first time in her life, to record with Brillant and the album "Pretty" (co-produced by Angélique's brother, Oscar Kidjo) hit record stores in 1980. The album proved a phenomenal success in Africa, spawning two successful hit singles, "Pretty" and "Ninivé". Consequently, Ms. Kidjo was catapulted to overnight fame in West Africa, thousands of fans all the way from Togo to the Ivory Coast flocking to see 'Angélique Pretty' perform live.

Following this phenomenal success, Angélique's producer Ekambi Brillant encouraged the young Beninoise funk diva to try launching her career in France. Armed with a box of records and her unique, strident voice 23-year-old Angélique arrived in Paris in 1983, moving in with her brother who was already based in the French capital. But life in Paris was not quite the bed of roses Angélique had been expecting. The young singer struggled to make a living at first and ended up enrolling at university as a law student. She dropped out at the end of the first term, however, determined to make a go of her singing career. Paris was a veritable hotbed of world music talent in the early 80's, several major African artists having chosen to live in the city and record their albums there. It was not long before Angélique Kidjo, inspired by Paris's thriving Afro-Caribbean music scene, would go on to establish herself as a major artist in her own right.

Alafia

Angélique would prepare for the launch of her singing career in France by enrolling at Les Ateliers-Chansons in Paris, where she took classes in classical singing, mime and physical theatre. Shortly after enrolling at Les Ateliers Angélique would also begin performing with Alafia, a talented group of musicians from Benin and Togo. When she finished her classes at Les Ateliers-Chansons, the young singer would go on to enroll at the CIM, another Paris music school where the courses were more jazz-oriented. Angélique would spend three years at the CIM, studying under an American tutor who taught he young singer special breathing techniques and trained her voice to a high standard.

It was while studying at the CIM that Angélique met a young Dutch pianist by the name of Jasper van't Hof, who was to have a great influence on her early career. Van't Hof was the leader of the innovative German group Pili Pili, who made a name for themselves in the early 80's playing an eclectic mix of funk, jazz and African rhythms. Angélique Kidjo was perfectly at home with this funky musical fusion and joined the group in 1984 as their lead singer. The young Beninoise singer would accompany Pili Pili on a number of major European tours and establish an excellent reputation for herself on the European music scene, especially in Germany where the name Angélique Kidjo became synonymous with Afro-funk .

In 1986 Angélique Kidjo took a temporary break from Pili Pili to fly out to the U.S. and record an album with Dutch saxophonist Tom Barlage. The result was the smoothly funky album "Ewa Ka Djo".

After finishing work on the album Angélique returned to Europe and resumed her role as Pili Pili's lead singer. The group promptly set off on another round of tours, going on to perform at the Montreux music festival in Switzerland in 1987. This renowned festival proved to be a veritable springboard for Angélique's European career, audiences falling under the spell of the young Beninoise's dynamic, and highly sensual, live performances. Angélique proved she was capable of performing an extensive range of material, singing everything from soft African lullabies to wildly rhythmic funk tracks. Her brilliant stage choreography and wonderfully strident voice certainly proved a major hit with Montreux festival-goers.

After recording several albums with Pili Pili (the best-known of which are the group's 1985 album "Hoomba Hoomba", their 1987 opus "Jakko" and "Be in Two Minds", recorded in 1988), Angélique decided to leave the group and branch out on her own. However, she would continue to perform as a guest vocalist on many of Pili Pili's later albums.

"Parakou"

In 1988 Angélique teamed up with a number of young French musicians from the jazz world and formed her own group, Angie Kidjo. (The Beninoise diva would later go on to marry her backing group's bass-player Jean Hébraïl).

The following year Angélique Kidjo went on to launch her solo career in style, recording an interesting modern fusion album entitled "Parakou". This album - the first on which the singer was entirely free to develop her own musical style - featured an eclectic, and extremely catchy, mix of soul, zouk, makossa and reggae, held together with a strong underlying jazz rhythm. The album was aptly named after Parakou, a town in central Benin which has become renowned as a veritable melting-pot of traditional cultures and musical styles. One of the most outstanding tracks on the album "Parakou" was the beautiful ballad "Blewu" (which featured Angélique's old pianist friend Jasper van't Hof on keyboards).

1989 turned out to be a triumphant year in Angélique Kidjo's career. The album "Parakou" proved to be a major success, and then in May of that same year Angélique was invited to fulfill one of her greatest dreams, supporting her childhood idol Miriam Makeba in Paris. The concerts at the Olympia were an enormous success, the South African star and the Beninoise diva getting on like a house on fire. In fact, both singers found that they shared the same dynamic temperament and the same political ideals - and Miriam Makeba would delight Angélique Kidjo, by expressing great admiration for her 'sister's' voice.

Meanwhile Angélique Kidjo continued her busy touring schedule, performing at Le Petit Journal Montparnasse in Paris (on 13 April) then appearing at the Manosque Jazz Festival in the South of France in July. The singer would go on to perform a highly successful run at Le Sentier des Halles, a small venue in central Paris, where she brought the house down nightly (from 9 November to 31 December). By this stage in her career the Beninoise singer had established a formidable reputation on the French music scene and when the famous American jazz star Nina Simone arrived in Paris to perform at the Olympia (9 - 10 April 1990), it was Angélique Kidjo who was invited to support her. On 27 April the Benonise diva went on to perform at the legendary Paris jazz club Le New Morning. She then set off on an extensive European tour which included several dates at major venues in London.

"Logozo" is released by Island Records

In 1991 Angélique flew out to a recording studio in Miami and began work on her second solo album, "Logozo". "Logozo" (which means "Tortoise" in Angélique's mother tongue, Fon), was released on the singer's new record label, Island.

Angélique's second album, which fused the eclectic influences on "Parakou" into a more coherent musical mix, featured a range of stylish arrangements and some excellent percussion work. The ten tracks on "Logozo" (the majority of which were co-written by Angélique and her husband Jean Hébraïl) proved extremely popular with European audiences and the two single releases "Batonga" and "Wéwé" fared particularly well in the charts. "Logozo", considered to be one of the best albums of Angélique Kidjo's career, was produced by Joe Galdo (an American musician born in Cuba). The album also featured an impressive range of special guest stars including the famous Cameroonian sax-player Manu Dibango, American jazz star Branford Marsalis and Zairean singer Ray Lema who provided magnificent backing vocals to Angélique's a cappella rendition of "Sénié". But the most outstanding track on "Logozo" was undoubtedly Angélique's haunting version of "Malaïka", the traditional African love song which helped rocket Miriam Makeba to fame before her.

At the end of 1991 Angélique returned to Benin to perform at the 10th edition of Radio France Internationale's "Découvertes" awards, held in Cotonou. The Beninoise singer, who was invited to be the patron of the Cotonou ceremony, received the Prix RFI-SACEM on this same occasion. On 5 December Angélique Kidjo had already appeared in concert in Porto Novo, the capital of Benin, but her performance at the "Découvertes" award ceremony on 8 December really brought the house down, the audience going wild for Angélique's smooth funk rhythms. On her return to Paris the singer would also go on to perform a memorable show at La Cigale on 19 December 1991.

By this stage in her career Angélique Kidjo had become a veritable international star. Indeed, the following year the Beninoise singer would set off on an extensive international tour, playing a number of major concerts in Japan and Australia. In September 1992 Angélique Kidjo arrived in the United States and was invited to perform on Branford Marsalis's famous TV jazz programme, "The Tonight Show". Later that same year the singer received no less than three nominations at America's New Music Awards (for Best New Album, Best World Music Album and Best Solo Artist). Angélique was pipped at the post in these three categories but she did go on to scoop the award for Best Female Francophone Artist at RFI's "Octaves" awards held in Montreal, Canada.

On 31 October 1992 Angélique Kidjo, who was four months pregnant at this point, returned to the Olympia in Paris. This time round the Beninoise singer was no longer the warm-up act for Miriam Makeba or Nina Simone, but a major international star in her own right - and she was in the position of choosing which artist was going to support her. (Angélique chose the up-and-coming young Zairean singer Lokua Kanza). After this major Paris concert Angélique retired from the forefront of the French music scene to look after her new baby daughter, Naïma-Laura, who was born in the spring of 1993. However, the singer did not give up her music career altogether. While she was looking after her baby she still found time to work on her songwriting, preparing material for a new album which was released at the beginning of 94.

Afro-funk

Angélique's third solo album, "Aye", was recorded in Minneapolis, in Prince's Paisley Park Studio and mixed in London and Paris. Masterminded by Prince's personal producer David Z and Will Mowat (famous for his production work with the British group Soul II Soul), Angélique's new album featured ten dynamic Afro-funk tracks destined for the dancefloor.

The outstanding track on "Aye" (the title means "Life" in Angélique's mother tongue Fon) was the wonderfully catchy "Agolo", a driving dance number whose lyrics tackled global environmental issues head on. The song, which went on to become the most popular hit of Angélique Kidjo's entire career, was infused with the powerful rhythm of juju music and the "talking drum" (a musical genre which evolved from Nigerian voodoo tradition). Angélique, who grew up in Ouidah, the voodoo capital of Benin, has continued to draw on voodoo culture as a powerful source of musical inspiration throughout her career.

Following the release of her new album "Aye", Angélique flew out to Scandinavia on 17 February 1994 to kick off another extensive international tour. In March of that year the singer returned to the United States to perform another successful series of concerts to American audiences. (Kidjo was one of the handful of African artists to have made a major name for herself on the American music scene, which was notoriously difficult for foreign artists). On 25 May Angélique performed at Le Bataclan in Paris, then went on to appear at a host of prestigious international music festivals over the summer months. The Beninoise funk diva brought the house down at the Montreux festival in Switzerland then went on to score a major hit at the summer Jazz Festival in Nice. Angélique Kidjo was also one of the star performers at Africa Fête, a travelling annual music festival designed to promote African music in America and Canada.

In the spring of 95 Angélique Kidjo returned to her homeland with her husband Jean Hébraïl. But this was to be no major holiday - on the contrary, the couple would spend several months travelling the length and breadth of Benin, recording the traditional music of various ethnic groups. This painstaking research would result in material for Angélique's next album, "Fifa".

This new album, partly recorded during the singer's trip to Benin then recorded and re-mixed in Paris, London, Los Angeles and San Francisco, was markedly different from Angélique Kidjo's previous albums. For the singer had deliberately chosen to go back to her musical roots on "Fifa", integrating traditional Beninoise percussion techniques to her modern funk-rock sound. Produced by her husband Jean Hébraïl and featuring her childhood idol the guitarist Carlos Santana, "Fifa" found Angélique experimenting with a new musical direction and singing in English for the first time (although most of the tracks on "Fifa" were still recorded in the singer's mother tongue Fon). "Fifa" - Fon for "Peace" - also returned to the theme of voodoo on tracks such as "Goddess of the Sea", "Shango" and "Korokoro", a song which describes a traditional voodoo ceremony where the participants call up the spirits of their dead ancestors. "Naïma", the last track on the album, was dedicated to the singer's daughter.

"Fifa" scores a hit with film-goers

In 1995 the title track from "Fifa" was featured on the soundtrack of the Hollywood comedy "Ace Ventura". This was not the first time that Angélique Kidjo's music had been used in the movie world. In 1993 André Téchiné had already used Kidjo's version of "Malaïka" on the soundtrack of his film "Ma saison préférée". And in 1994 Kidjo's vocals enlivened the Italian director Nanni Moretti's award-winning film "Dear Diary" and - somewhat more surprisingly - appeared on the soundtrack of "Street Fighter" (an action thriller starring Jean-Claude Van Damme).

In 1996 Angélique Kidjo flew out to New York to kick off another extensive international tour, going on to play major dates in London and Paris in May of that year. In November and December Angélique returned to West Africa, performing sell-out concerts in Benin, Togo and the Ivory Coast. Then in 1997 the Beninoise diva took her dynamic Afro-funk fusion to Australia.

Angélique flew out to the United States to record a brand new album entitled "Oremi". Angélique and her husband, Jean Hébrail, wrote most of the twelve tracks on "Oremi" - an album which was largely inspired by jazz and rhythm'n'blues - but the album also included an innovative cover version of Jimi Hendrix's legendary hit "Voodoo Child". A number of prestigious guest stars, including singer Cassandra Wilson and sax-player Branford Marsalis, joined Angélique in the studio to record "Oremi".

Angélique, who had begun spending an increasing amount of time in the States, decided to move to New York in the summer of 98, claiming that there were more musical facilities and creative opportunities in the U.S.

Americas

Angélique now manages her entire career from the States and makes only rare appearances in Europe. After signing a new recording deal with Columbia in 2001, the singer brought out a compilation album entitled "Keep on Moving" (featuring 18 of her greatest hits). Angélique hit the road again later that year, performing a series of concerts across the States between May and September 2001. She is due to bring out a new studio album in the autumn of this year - and rumours are fans can expect a strong Brazilian flavour!

 Released in April 2002, "Black Ivory Soul" did not disappoint Angélique Kidjo’s fans. Displaying strong Brazilian vibes, the album partakes of the star’s exploring of Black American sounds that had started in 1998 with "Oremi" and is expected to go on in Cuba and Haiti. "Black Ivory Soul" was recorded between studios in New York and Salvador de Bahia and produced by ‘world fusion’ maestro, Bill Laswell, at the head of an impressive number of Brazilian, African, West Indian or American artists. With three titles co-written by Carlinhos Brown, a cover of Gilberto Gil’s "Refavela" and three titles in French—including Gainsbourg’s "Ces Petits Riens", Angelique’s latest opus is as much of a cosmopolitan venture as any of her previous ones.

Promoting her album, the Beninoise singer went back on the road, bringing the house down in the US and Canada, before going back to Europe where she began a European tour with two dates in April at the Européen in Paris.

On 25 July 2002, the singer was appointed as one of UNICEF’s goodwill ambassadors. As part of her work, Angélique would visit several European and African countries over the following months, campaigning for children’s rights to healthcare, education and protection.

2004: " Oyaya!"

In the spring of 2004, Angélique released the third instalment of her musical trilogy devoted to the countries where Africans had been forced into exile in the slave days. Following "Oremi" (a musical trip through the U.S.) and "Black Ivory Soul" (a musical exploration of Brazil), the singer delved into the history of the Caribbean on "Oyaya!" This joyous, upbeat album included some deeper reflective songs about topical issues such as religion and AIDS. Working as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF in Tanzania, Angélique had written a song about children living in villages devastated by the disease entitled "Mutoto Kwanza" (in Togolese Mina "Children First").

In April 2004, the singer kicked off a major new international tour with a series of concerts in Canada.

In May 2005, Ms. Kidjo put in an appearance at the Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco. Later that same year, she went into the studio to contribute to the soundtrack of the French animated film “Kirikou et les Bêtes Sauvages.” The second instalment of the adventures of Michel Ocelot’s pint-sized African hero proved to be a huge box-office hit. And the soundtrack, composed by Manu Dibango and featuring an impressive number of African stars, fared equally well.

2006 marked the start of a series of intensive work sessions as Angélique began preparing material for her new album, “Djin Djin.” The album, intended as a return to her musical roots, featured two well-known percussionists from Benin: Crespin Kpitiki and Benoît Avinouhé (both members of the Gangbé Brass Band). For the first time in her career, Angélique also lined up a number of international guest stars on her new album including Peter Gabriel, Alicia Keys, Carlos Santana, Brandford Marsalis, Ziggy Marley and the sought-after producer Tony Visconti. “Djin Djin”, a reflection of Ms. Kidjo’s evolution from the quiet village streets of Ouidah to the hustle and bustle of New York, was released on 30 April 2007. 

Following the album release, Angélique Kidjo embarked on a major tour (May - July 2007). Scheduled dates include an appearance at Le New Morning, in Paris, on 4 June and a concert at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco, on 7 June. One month later, Angélique is due to appear in South Africa at the SOS Live Earth Festival in Johannesburg.

In February 2008, Angélique Kidjo won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music release for her album "Djin Djin".

On 20 January 2009, she was invited to President Obama’s inauguration in Washington. That evening, she sang with Michael Franti at a Peace Ball given in honour of the new president.

From 25-27 September, the Beninese singer organised a concert in homage to Miriam Makeba, who had died in November 2008. At Paris’s Cirque d'hiver, she brought together artists such as Dobet Gnahoré, Ayo, Asia, Sayon Bamba and Rokia Traoré, as well as the South African Vusi Mahlasela – the only man in the line-up – to recount the story of the affectionately named "Mama Africa" in song.

2009: "Õÿo"

In January 2010 Angélique Kidjo released a new album entitled "Õÿo", blending soul, jazz, R&B and Beninese rhythms. In addition to three new songs, Angélique also covered the standards that had most marked her, including "Move On Up" by Curtis Mayfield in a duet with the American singer John Legend, and Aretha Franklin’s "Baby I Love You" with Dianne Reeves.

Angélique Kidjo also covered Sidney Bechet’s "Petit fleur"(a favourite of her father’s, who died in 2008), and "Zelie" originally sung by the Togolese singer Bella Bellow. The album features an array of hugely talented musicians such as the Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke, the American trumpeter Roy Hargrove and the American Afrobeat group Antibalas. This album evokes the music that Angélique listened to as a young girl and that shaped her artistic direction.

The album also features "You Can Count On Me", a track composed with her partner Jean Hébrail and their daughter, recently used by UNICEF for a publicity campaign against tetanus. A percentage of the sales of downloads were given to UNICEF for the purchase of vaccines.

Angélique played several concerts in France over Spring 2010, including one at Paris’s Cigale on 17 April. 

April 2010

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