Posts Tagged ‘africa’

Songlines Essential 10: African Queens

Posted on March 30th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

african-queens

The bright star rising from West Africa in the form of Noura Mint Seymali is just one of the continent’s long and impressive list of women singers. Nigel Williamson picks ten favourite albums 

 

Fatoumata-Diawara---Fatou-CoverjpgFatoumata Diawara

Fatou

(World Circuit, 2011)

Born in the Ivory Coast in 1982 into a family sharing ancestral Wassoulou roots with Oumou Sangaré, Fatoumata represents a new generation of African female stars. Her sparkling debut fittingly included a praise song to her friend and mentor Oumou and features contributions from Tony Allen, Toumani Diabaté and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. A Top of the World in #79.

 

 

Cesaria-Evora---Miss-Perfumado-CoverCesaria Evora

Miss Perfumado

(Lusafrica/BMG, 1992)

From the tiny archipelago of Cape Verde some 500km off the coast of West Africa, Evora took the ravishingly melancholic sound of morna to a mainstream international audience. This is the album that brought her evocative, smoky voice to the world’s attention. She was already in her 50s when Miss Perfumado was released and all of her subsequent albums were special – but arguably she never topped this recording, which includes her signature tune ‘Sodade’.

 

 

_Brenda-Fassie---Greatest-Hits-CoverBrenda Fassie

Greatest Hits

(EMI, 2004)

The queen of African pop and ‘Madonna of the townships,’ Fassie’s wild life came to an end when she died from a cocaine overdose in 2004; the post-mortem showed she was also HIV positive. But her music defied the adversity of apartheid and her personal problems as an exuberant and life-affirming celebration. Reviewed in #28.

 

 

_Bi-Kidude-Zanzibar-CoverBi Kidude

Zanzibar

(Retroafric, 2008)

Born sometime around 1910 as the daughter of a coconut seller in colonial Zanzibar, Kidude was the queen of East African taarab music and an icon of Swahili culture. She was almost a centenarian when she recorded this gravel-voiced album but her potency remained undimmed. She died in 2013.

 

 

Angelique-Kidjo---Oyo-CoverAngélique Kidjo

Oyo

(Razor & Tie, 2010)

Since her debut a quarter of a century ago, the Benin-born Kidjo is a worthy successor to Miriam Makeba’s ‘Mama Africa’ title, travelling the world to promote African sisterhood. Her tireless work outside the studio earned her the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International earlier this year. Inside the studio, her eclectic influences are brilliantly represented here, mixing traditional music, Makeba standards, classic 1970s soul and even a Bollywood song. A Top of the World in #66.

 

 

_Mahotella-Queens---Sebai-Bai-CoverMahotella Queens

Sebai Bai

(Indigo, 2000)

After years spent backing the deep, groaning vocals of Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde, following his death in 1999 Hilda Tloubatla, Nobesuthu Mbadu and Amanda Nkosi decided to continue as a trio and came back with this fizzing album of South African township jive, full of thrilling vocal harmonies and mbaqanga guitars – although the dazzling Zulu dance steps that made them such a live attraction you’ll have to supply for yourselves…

 

 

Souad-Massi---Raoui-CoverSouad Massi

Raoui

(Wrasse, 2001)

The title of the fine debut album by the Algerian-born Massi translates as ‘Storyteller’, which sums her up neatly as she sings her spirited songs in Arabic (and sometimes in the Berber language, Kabyle). The album’s troubadour qualities led some to dub her a ‘North African Tracy Chapman.’

 

 

Maryam-Mursal---The-Journey-CoverMaryam Mursal

The Journey

(Real World, 1998, reissued 2012)

Mursal began singing professionally in Somalia in 1966 but this album was the result of her having to flee the war-torn country and seek asylum in Denmark. Produced by Simon Emmerson and Martin Russell of Afro Celt Sound System and featuring backing vocals from Peter Gabriel, it’s a modern take on the style known as ‘Somali jazz’ and reveals Mursal as both a dynamic singer and an ebullient personality. The album was reissued in 2012.

 

 

Oumou-Sangare---Moussolou-CoverOumou Sangaré

Moussolou

(World Circuit, 1991, reissued 2016)

Nobody has challenged the gender inequalities of patriarchal African society more resolutely than Mali’s Oumou Sangaré. Her stunning debut set the tone and sparked something of a feminist revolution on its release. Recently reissued, the record still sounds just as powerful all these years on.

 

 

Rokia-Traore---Ne-So-CoverRokia Traoré

Né So

(Nonesuch, 2016)

Born in Mali but equally at home in Europe where she spent much of her youth, Rokia’s sixth album seems like a career-defining moment – a mature, sometimes sparse and subdued work that shows that there are more ways to convey the vibrant energy of African music than a thumping dance beat. 

 

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Sona Jobarteh: Modern Griot

Posted on March 29th, 2017 in Recent posts by .

sona-jobarteh-for-songlines

Alexandra Petropoulos speaks to Gambian kora player Sona Jobarteh about the musical journey that has taken her through traditional griot music and Western classical performance, and how it led to the creation of her country’s first school dedicated to Mande music. (Photo by Mateusz Bral)

Sunjata Keita watches regally over the proceedings, his marvellously patterned robes drape over his kingly red throne. He has just been crowned the king of the Mali Empire, and although Sanjally, the boy playing Sunjata, is only nine years old, he exudes a charisma fit for an emperor. The other children, his subjects, dance and sing his praises, grinning from ear to ear, while another young actor, Sidiki, plays the balafon at the base of Sunjata’s throne. It is clear they are relishing this moment, proud to be showing off their hard work. They finish triumphantly and take their bows. The audience, made up of parents, teachers and a few members of the Gambian ministry, offer up their proud applause.

The children are students at the brand new Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School of Music in Brikama, the Gambia, set up by kora player Sona Jobarteh in memory of her grandfather. They have been at the school for less than a full month, and their performance is an impressive start for the school, one that promises much for the children who might otherwise have been left behind in a damaged national education system.

Education is a subject close to Sona Jobarteh’s heart. Between her years of touring and performing, she has developed a comprehensive curriculum for teaching kora, and she has now embarked on her ambitious ABJ Music School project. Not only does the school represent the Gambia’s first Mande music institution, Sona is working on a rigorous curriculum, which would ensure that the school is a respected cultural institution that is recognised internationally as well as at home.

Education has always played an important part of Sona’s illustrious musical career. She was born for music, just one in a great line of griot musicians: her grandfather and namesake of the school was the Gambia’s most celebrated kora player; her cousin is none other than Toumani Diabaté; her father Sanjally Jobarteh is a respected kora player; and her brother Tunde Jegede is a composer and accomplished kora and cello player.

As befitting a musician with her heritage, she began learning the kora from her brother at the tender age of two. Her brother also taught her classical instruments, like the cello, setting her on a path into the Western classical discipline. It wasn’t long before the cello, which required so much of her practice time, replaced the kora as her dominant instrument. By the age of 11 she was enrolled at London’s Royal College of Music’s Junior Department studying the cello, piano, harpsichord and Baroque music, and soon after that she started full-time at the Purcell School of Music, where she added composition to her studies. “It was the first time I was allowed to bring in my African heritage and bridge that gap.” While her composition tutor encouraged this melding of cultures, it was certainly not the overriding sentiment of the school.

The fact that Sona’s mother is English did little to dispel the discrimination that seemed inherent in the classical world. “The harsh reality is that I spent a lot of those years struggling with the fact I was not European. I was the only person who wasn’t European. It was like I was just ticking a box for them. But the comments…” she trails off, seemingly lost to her memories, but only for a moment. “It was comments like, ‘you’re doing quite well for an African.’ It’s interesting that you get used to it when you’re young, you don’t criticise things. It’s when you get older that you think, why did I put up with that stuff?”

She internalised that discrimination and quickly became self-conscious of her griot heritage, which may be why it took her a bit longer to find her way back to her roots, but “because of those experiences, I eventually came to a point where I decided I’d had enough. I wanted to pursue what I felt passionate about.”

That pursuit took her on a journey that saw her experiment with various genres, but ultimately the beckoning whispers of her heritage led her feet back to that familiar, traditional path. “I was very apprehensive about choosing a traditional route when based in London. I felt like no one was going to understand what I was doing. Then I was like I don’t care if no one understands, it’s the only thing that just makes me feel everything that I want. So that’s why Fasiya came about.”

Fasiya (Heritage), Sona’s debut album, was released in 2011, and saw her glorious return to Mande music but as informed by her Western training – new sprouts on those strong, deep roots. While she had decided to make the album without worrying about its reception, it was hard for her to be free of all apprehension, so it came as a pleasant surprise when it was so well-received. “There was a massive audience out there for this kind of music, and people loved it. It blew me away. And then within that year, I was the opening act for Toumani and Salif Keita… It made me confident that I had made the right choice.”

Sona is the first female kora virtuoso, rising to prominence in a male-dominated tradition, but it may be thanks to her mixed heritage – the very thing that held her back in the classical world – that she was able to do so. “[Being a woman] wasn’t as much of a problem as it should have been, and the reason was because I was different. It’s the challenge you face having mixed parentage – you’re always different, on both sides. But that was probably the reason why I was able to [play the kora]. I can’t imagine being able to do it otherwise.”

The gender question has never sat well with Sona however. “I never used to want to talk about the fact I was female. I am a kora player, that’s it. It has nothing to do with being female.” Over the years she has learned to embrace the conversation, as she recognises that there are plenty of women who may take inspiration from it, but this does lead her into fascinating discussion on gender and how it affects musicality. “If someone hears me play, they wouldn’t know that it was a female playing.” What is the difference between a man and woman’s playing, I ask. “There are differences in energy, feel and touch. Music is very connected to the differences between men and women.”

This begs the question of whether she tried to learn to play like a man. “No, I just played how I wanted to hear myself playing. The only people that play the instrument are men, so I didn’t want to sound any different from what I believe the kora should sound like. That male/female energy thing is really important in my understanding of music. Particularly when it comes to people asking about a male tradition. I have never intended to change tradition. It’s about respecting what the tradition needs. So if you are a female and you want to embody the way that this music is, you really have to submit yourself to what it demands. It may mean embodying a different energy and a different kind of a spirit.” It is for these reasons she refuses to sing and play at the same time when recording. “The only realm that I embody femininity is when I sing.”

Singing seemed to sneak up on her. She never saw herself as a singer. It was while she was looking for a singer for Fasiya that fellow Gambian musician Juldeh Camara heard her singing and asked why she didn’t just sing. “I was like ‘Come on, let’s not be ridiculous, I am not a singer.’ But he was adamant: ‘Is something wrong with you? Why would you spend six months trying to get someone to sing like that when you can just do it?’”

But she did spend about six months trying to find a singer before admitting to herself that she was perfectly capable of singing. Since then, her singing career had led her to work with film composer Alex Heffes on several projects including Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and a forthcoming remake of the TV series Roots. And never one to sit still, she is also in the midst of finishing a second album, due out this summer, and is still touring the world. However, recently, she’s put the most energy into the Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School of Music.

The school has been a long time coming, as the initial inspiration came to Sona when she was just 16 years old. She volunteered to assist in a music workshop for teenagers with behavioural problems. At this particular workshop, there was an angry young boy who had recently broken his hand by punching a wall the day before, and Sona watched this boy find a moment of escape while drumming. “He beat that drum like there was no tomorrow. He was just completely stuck on hitting this thing. He seemed to realise he could hit something, and instead of always being a negative thing that happened, like breaking his hand or injuring someone, he was getting a positive response. He was the last to leave. When he finally put the drum down, he just left his hand on it for a moment, and that really moved me. That was when I realised I want to work with children. That seed had been planted: I am going to set up an educational institution one day, for children, but in Africa.”

The ABJ School of Music is the result. While Sona points out that the official mission of the school is to preserve and propagate Gambian culture, the fact that she is personally sponsoring the school’s first round of 15 students from her own pocket hints at the lasting desire to help children in need that workshop so many years ago seemed to have instilled in her.

Sona chose the students through workshops she conducted across the country. She was looking for students with a musical spark and ability, without regard to their affluence. “The last thing I wanted to do is segregate children, I am not having that. The majority of people in this country don’t have money to go to school, so going for the 5% that do, it’s not real. I have to at least reflect this country properly.”

While the school’s main focus is obviously music, Sona has developed a fully integrated, holistic curriculum that attempts to make up for an otherwise broken national education system. Studies are topic based, rather than subject based, meaning that while the students learn about the Epic of Sunjata, they have history lessons about the time of the Mali Empire, will write summaries of the story for their English comprehension, depict the story in their art lessons, sing songs about Sunjata, and, of course, perform scenes from the epic in their play.

Children are able to learn about their culture in a context of something they can understand, but Sona is not only concerned with cultural preservation, but also cultural representation. “Culture is rarely presented properly from Africa to the rest of the world. Compare it to Indian classical music and how they present it to the rest of the world; it’s got such a high level of dignity. Before they know anything about it, people already know that there’s a lot of substance to it. Whereas here, because the culture isn’t presented properly, people come with a different attitude, like let’s have fun. This is real and not a joke.”

That is why Sona is keen to construct a strict curriculum that will help students learn music in a structured way that would reflect the classical institutions of the West, but be focused around proper representation of African traditional music and the musical framework behind it. “I am looking to get this implemented in every school in the country as an actual curriculum. There’s no point if it’s only a few children are going to benefit from it.” But Sona has set her sights further afield than the local Gambian educational system. A curriculum like this would also benefit the international students that the school will soon start accepting. These students who come to study the kora, balafon, djembé or singing will not only help the school’s international recognition, but their fees would help Sona accept the next intake of Gambian students.

“Everything has a beginning,” Sona says with a satisfied sigh, deservingly allowing herself a moment to relish the result of her hard work. “It’s not even been a month, and I think we’ve come far. If we continue to develop at this rate, we will get there.”

This article originally appeared in Songlines #118. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit: www.songlines.co.uk/subs

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New Apple Music playlist: African Queens

Posted on September 30th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

african-queens-angelique-kidjo-gilles-marie-zimmerman

The late, great Miriam Makeba was universally known as ‘Mama Africa’ for both the warmth of her music and her courage and resilience in the face of adversity. An iconic figurehead for African womanhood, she rightly kicks off this playlist of divas and songbirds who have followed in her formidable footsteps, drawn from every music-rich corner of the African continent. Playlist by Nigel Williamson for Songlines. (Photo of Angelique Kidjo by Gilles Marie Zimmerman).

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Angélique Kidjo – the indomitable spirit of Africa

Posted on October 14th, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .

angelique-kidjo3

From Adam and Eve to empowering women across the world – there’s not much that Angélique Kidjo doesn’t have an opinion about. Jane Cornwell meets to the irrepressible singer

Angélique Kidjo had only just pulled into a village in Samburu County, northern Kenya, when she was greeted by a group of women clad in the colourful garb of the region. It was a hot, dusty summer: nutritional food was scarce. Kidjo was part of a UNICEF initiative tackling childhood hunger and stunting; the welcoming party, a local choir, was similarly involved.

“So there I was,” says the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF since 2002, “and there were these women in their beautiful gowns. Suddenly they just opened their mouths and started singing.

“Oh. My. God.” She feigns amazement. “It just drew me in, and I started singing along with them. At that moment everything I’ve been experiencing with women around the world seemed to come together. A few weeks later I brought my bassist and keyboard player back and we did some recording.”

So it is that, with a joyful ululation, Kidjo’s album Eve kicks off amid the full-throated harmonies of the Samburu women’s choir, with the Kenyan song ‘M’Baamba’ setting the tone for a collection of tracks dedicated to the resilience and beauty of the women of Africa – especially those of Kenya, and of Kidjo’s native Benin.

All-female choirs from different villages in the tiny democracy of Benin – a slice of West Africa variously bordered by Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger – sing in an array of local languages including Fon, Goun and Yoruba: “The excitement they had when I came to visit them! They were like, ‘Pinch us, we’re dreaming!’”

Kidjo flashes her mega-watt grin. “And it has been laughter, goofiness, talking about sex and how stupid men can be sometimes… They looked at me funny when I showed them the songs,” she says, “but once they got them, it was like trying to stop a fast train.”

It’s a metaphor that applies neatly to Kidjo, a diminutive whirlwind blessed with formidable energy, a rafter-rattling voice and think-I-can, know-I-can determination. The New York-based mother-of-one has transcended the circumstances of her background (more of which in a moment) to forge an international career on the back of multilingual songs that mix traditional African styles with soul, pop, reggae, jazz and folk music.

There have been 13 albums – including her first live recording, 2012’s Spirit Rising, and 2010’s Oyo, which she dedicated to her late father – and numerous awards including a Grammy for 2007’s Djin Djin. She’s performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House and collaborated with the A-list likes of Alicia Keys, John Legend and Carlos Santana; an early big break was supporting her role model, the South African icon Miriam ‘Mama Africa’ Makeba.

‘Miriam was African, she was a woman, and she was a star; I wanted to be just like her,’ writes Kidjo in her autobiography, also titled Spirit Rising. “When I last saw her, she said to me, ‘My daughter, I can go now because you’re here.’”

Like Makeba (who died in 2008), Kidjo has devoted much of her adult life to activism: her organisation the Batonga Foundation campaigns for girls’ education in Africa, providing scholarships and building schools. Her work for NGOs such as UNICEF and Oxfam has seen her writing songs of support, participating in charity concerts and ceremonies and visiting countries including Ethiopia and Zimbabwe (where she was thrown out for calling Mugabe a ‘monster’) to campaign on everything from eradicating tetanus and malaria to ending the cruel ritual of female genital mutilation.

In 2007 she accompanied a group of women leaders including the then Irish president Mary Robinson to meet with women living in refugee camps on the border of Darfur and Chad. The horror stories of rape and murder that Kidjo heard only strengthened her resolve to fight for their future, and the future of women all over Africa.

“I wanted to be a ghost,” she says of the experience. “I swear to God, after that trip I lost sleep until today. These women were able to talk through their pain, and they told me I was not to victimise them twice. They said I had to help put an end to this stupid crisis and get them home safe so they could continue their children’s education; they didn’t want their kids to have the life they’d had.”

She pauses, smiles. “It was a big message of resilience and hope. That’s why I dedicated Eve to the women of Africa, because even in the most horrible situations you can’t shut down the light of love in them. It’s just not going to happen,” she adds with a shrug.

We’re sitting in the foyer of an upmarket hotel near London’s Barbican Centre. It’s mid-December, and chilly; there’s a blast of cold air each time the doorman welcomes someone in. Undaunted, Kidjo chats on, declining an offer of coffee (as she states in her book, she’s already hyped up enough), stopping only when I notice that the red light on my Dictaphone has mysteriously vanished.

I’m trying to figure out what’s gone wrong when Kidjo’s husband and collaborator, French musician Jean Hebrail, rushes over with his iPhone and pressing record, leaves it on the table in between us. “It’s working; Jean will email you the file later,” says Kidjo reassuringly, affording me a peek into the well-oiled PR machine the couple have built since meeting as students at the CIM Jazz School of Paris in the mid-80s.

 

“An artist is only really a full artist if they are aware of the society around them”

 

“The thing is,” she continues, scarcely missing a beat, “an artist is only really a full artist if they are aware of the society around them. You can do useful things with your music, things that help others, the way we did with the Lilith Fair [the women-led music festival that raised money for North American women’s charities].

“I remember being at a press conference for Lilith Fair [in 2010] where a male journalist stood up and said, ‘So why only women?’” Her eyes flash. “I said, ‘What the hell do you care? If it was men gathered here we would never get that sort of question! Quit bitching at everything we do! Women’s issues are your issues!’”

Kidjo was never meant to be a singer; in Benin, professional female musicians were, and in some places still are, considered immoral. Music, however, was in her blood from the get-go. One of three sisters and seven brothers born to liberal parents – a father of Fon lineage who worked for the post office and a Yoruba mother who ran a local theatre troupe – Kidjo grew up dancing to records by James Brown, Aretha Franklin and the Togolese chanteuse Bella Bellow.

Bellow’s glorious ‘Blewu’ features on Eve in stripped-down, guitar-and-voice format. As does ‘Bana’, a traditional Congolese song she learned from her maternal grandfather, who worked in the Congo; Kidjo duets with her 87-year-old mother Yvonne, to whom Eve is also dedicated. Family is vital to Kidjo, who spends much of our interview outlining her diverse and impressive ancestry.

Her autobiography Spirit Rising tells of a barefoot tomboy fond of climbing trees, playing goalkeeper for her brothers’ football games and aged nine, singing with the Beninese mothers who had created an association for women’s rights.

‘Being with them gave me strength,’ writes Kidjo, who also credits her beloved, progressive father and maternal grandmother with giving her the confidence to be herself. ‘I wasn’t aware that it would shape my way of seeing the world. But those women showed me I could go anywhere.’

Except, initially, around her country. It wasn’t just that her high school classmates threw stones and called her vile names because she wanted to be – was – a singer. It was that once she finally hit the big time, Benin had undergone a military coup and turned into a Marxist-Leninist state that grew increasingly more sinister and oppressive. Asked to serve as a mouthpiece for the dictatorship, and with no industry to support artists otherwise, the 23-year-old Kidjo slipped quietly out of Benin for a new life in France.

This would be tougher than she’d imagined. But then Kidjo – who’d decided to be a human rights lawyer if a music career didn’t pan out – is made of mighty stuff.

“For the next six years I couldn’t speak to my parents because their phone was tapped.” She got by working as a babysitter, a cleaner in an Ibis hotel on the Périphérique and in an Afro-Caribbean hair salon for below minimum wage. The money she got from her sessions as a backing singer (“When I really learned to project my voice”) she poured into paying for her lessons at jazz school.

Africans weren’t meant to play jazz, or so she was told: “Jazz comes from Africa,” sniffs Kidjo, who often scat-sings African-style. “I loved jazz because it helped me understand the connections between classical music, pop and African rhythms. I learned how jazzmen like Coltrane revered their African roots, and how a whole group of jazz musicians used African modes and signatures.”

But once she burst onto the international scene with Logozo, the 1991 Island Records release for which she shaved her hair into a flat top and donned a zebra-skin jumpsuit (a photo-shoot intended to subvert ‘exotic’ African stereotypes), the arguments really started. Was Kidjo diluting ‘traditional’ African music by adding soul and pop? Should she be filed under ‘world music’ or something more mainstream? Just how authentic, really, was her sound?

“Aaargh!” Kidjo is so over talking about this one. “It’s African music,” she reiterates matter-of-factly. “All of it.”

Her collaborators tend to have the same boundaries-down aesthetic: Eve features guest spots by the likes of Dr John, The Kronos Quartet and the Nigerian singer-songwriter Asa, with whom Kidjo duets on ‘Eva’, a song that asks African men to appreciate the strength and beauty of African women, and to work together towards love and peace.

“We women have been sitting on the side for too long,” says Kidjo after holding forth on topics including slavery, fundamentalism, Western imperialism and the way Eve’s adventures in Eden have been misrepresented (“Did Eve shove the apple down Adam’s throat? What is his responsibility here? Both were guilty but the woman got all the blame.”)

Women can’t continue to suffer abuse in silence: “Men have to believe that empowering us is empowering them. Let’s get a coalition of women together as peace negotiators! We are the first victims so why are we never part of the reconstruction process when it happens? We need to find those men to tell the other men, ‘Come on!’”

There is hope, of course. Just as there is colour, laughter, joy and music, always music – “Benin has a lot of different rhythms; everyone talks about Malian music, which I love, but it’s not the only music in Africa.” Onstage at the Barbican the following night, backed by just a pianist and an enthusiastic UK-based female choir, Kidjo embodies the indomitable spirit of Africa, of the women of Africa, peppering her set with blessings, calls for peace and reassurances that “there are great people still trying to change the world.”

She isn’t talking about herself, though she might have been. “I have much to live up to,” says Kidjo. “I promise to do my best until the end of my days.” And she will: we can all be sure of that.

 

Angélique Kidjo’s best albums

kidjo-oyoOyo

(Proper Records)

Oyo features collaborations with major international artists. Contributions here come from soul-man John Legend, on a suitably full-blooded version of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up,’ and Dianne Reeves, on the gospel-tinged ‘I’ve Got Dreams To Remember’ by Otis Redding. Kidjo has no problem moving from American to African classics. Having led the celebrations of Miriam Makeba’s life at London’s Barbican Centre, she includes two songs made famous by ‘Mama Afrika,’ including a soulful rendition of ‘Lakuthn Llanga’. Further highlights are a brief but inspired Benin traditional song ‘Atcha Houn’, an Indian movie tune given an irresistible West African makeover and ‘Afia’, a Kidjo original built around Brazilian grooves. (Tim Woodall)

 

kidjo-eveEve

(429 Records) 

Dedicated to ‘the women of Africa, to their resilience and their beauty,’ Kidjo’s tenth studio album features the voices of women’s choirs from ten different villages in Benin and Kenya, singing in half a dozen different languages. But don’t go thinking this is some kind of worthy field recording. Their voices swoop and swell thrillingly in response to Kidjo’s own lithe vocals over dynamic Afro-American grooves provided by the likes of Dr John, Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and a heavyweight New York jazzrock rhythm section of Steve Jordan and Christian McBride. Bold, visionary and in places quite spine-tingling, Eve goes down as one of the peaks of Kidjo’s impressive career. (Nigel Williamson)

 

kidjo-luxembourgAngélique Kidjo Sings with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg

(429 Records) 

Kidjo pursues the marriage of African rhythms and European conservatoire tradition by reimagining nine songs from her back catalogue with a 110-piece orchestra, eight-piece African choir and a small combo featuring upright bass, guitar and percussion. Under conductor and arranger Gast Waltzing, the orchestra sympathetically supports the energy and intricacy of Kidjo’s African rhythms on such back catalogue favourites as ‘Malaika’ and ‘Kelele’, plus two of the new songs from Eve, and they play with impressive brio, while the thrill of hearing such a powerful swell behind her seems to have brought out the best in Kidjo’s rich and supple voice. This recording confirms that she has steadily grown into one of the most ambitious and accomplished African artists de nos jours. (Nigel Williamson)

 

This article originally appeared in Songlines #98. Subscribe to Songlines

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