Beninese musical superstar and human rights activist Angélique Kidjo was awarded Best Artist in the Songlines Music Awards 2013. This Friday (December 13), Angélique will perform at London’s Barbican Centre as part this year’s Songlines Music Awards Winners’ concert.
“An activist, using music for pleasure and power,” is how Jude Kelly, artistic director of London’s Southbank Centre, succinctly described Angélique Kidjo when she introduced the Women of the World concert last month. Although petite, Angélique is a bundle of energy and packs a mighty punch on stage. She’s made songs like ‘Malaika’ and ‘Redemption Song’ her own, while her songs ‘Agolo’ and ‘Batonga’ have become signature pieces.
Angélique was born in Cotonou, Benin. She started singing at an early age, but was forced to move to Paris in 1983 when Benin became a Marxist dictatorship. In Paris her career took off, and she was discovered by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. It was Logozo (1991), her first album for the label, which brought her to an international audience. Since then she’s won a Grammy for Djin Djin (2007), become a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and co-founded the Batonga Foundation for girls’ education in Africa.
As a youth in Benin, Angélique was inspired by South African singer Miriam Makeba at a time when social opinion of singers was low. “Miriam Makeba was the African role model I needed.” In a way, since Makeba’s death in 2008 Kidjo has stepped into her shoes – almost literally in the film Mama Africa, a celebration of Makeba’s life.
She has received many accolades, including being described by Time magazine as ‘Africa’s premier diva,’ yet hearing of her Songlines Music Award her reaction was “Woah! I’m so proud!”