Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, known as Angélique Kidjo (born July 14, 1960), is a Beninese Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter and activist, noted for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos. Time magazine has called her “Africa’s premier diva”. The BBC has included Kidjo in its list of the African continent’s 50 most iconic figures. The Guardian has listed her as one of its Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World and Kidjo is the first woman to be listed among “The 40 Most Powerful Celebrities In Africa” by Forbes magazine. The Daily Telegraph in London described her as “The undisputed queen of African music” during the 2012 Olympic Games River of Music Festival. In March 2013, NPR, National Public Radio in America, called her “Africa’s greatest living diva”. Kidjo is listed among the “2014 Most Influential Africans” by New African magazine and Jeune Afrique. Forbes Afrique put Kidjo on the cover of their “100 most influential women” issue in 2015. On June 6, 2013, Kidjo was elected vice-president of the Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d´Auteurs et Compositeurs (CISAC). She now resides in New York City, where she is an occasional contributor to the New York Times. Kidjo has received Honorary Doctorates from Yale University, Berklee College of Music and Middlebury College.
Her musical influences include the Afropop, Caribbean zouk, Congolese rumba, jazz, gospel, and Latin styles; as well as her childhood idols Bella Bellow, James Brown, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Miriam Makeba and Carlos Santana. She has recorded George Gershwin’s “Summertime”, Ravel’s Boléro, Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” and the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”, and has collaborated with Dave Matthews and the Dave Matthews Band, Kelly Price, Alicia Keys, Branford Marsalis, Ziggy Marley, Philip Glass, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Carlos Santana, John Legend, Herbie Hancock, Josh Groban, Dr John, the Kronos Quartet and Cassandra Wilson. Kidjo’s hit songs include “Agolo”, “We We”, “Adouma”, “Wombo Lombo”, “Afirika”, “Batonga”, and her version of “Malaika”. Her album Logozo is ranked number 37 in the Greatest Dance Albums of All Time list compiled by Vice Magazine’s Thump web site.
Kidjo is fluent in Fon, French, Yorùbá and English, and sings in all four languages; she also has her own personal language, which includes words that serve as song titles such as “Batonga”. “Malaika” is a song sung in the Swahili language. Kidjo often utilizes Benin’s traditional Zilin vocal technique and jazz vocalese.
Kidjo is the recipient of the 2015 Crystal Award given by the World Economic Forum of Davos in Switzerland and has received the Ambassador Of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in 2016 She also is included in the exhibits at the National Museum of African American History that officially opened on Sept. 24, 2016 on the National Mall.
Kidjo was born in Cotonou, Benin. Her father is from the Fon people of Ouidah and her mother from the Yoruba people. She grew up listening to Beninese traditional music, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, James Brown, Manu Dibango, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Osibisa, and Santana. By the time she was six, Kidjo was performing with her mother’s theatre troupe, giving her an early appreciation for traditional music and dance. She started singing in her school band, Les Sphinx, and found success as a teenager with her adaptation of Miriam Makeba’s “Les Trois Z”, which played on national radio. She recorded the album Pretty with the Cameroonian producer Ekambi Brilliant and her brother Oscar. It featured the songs “Ninive”, “Gbe Agossi” and a tribute to the singer Bella Bellow, one of her role models. The success of the album allowed her to tour all over West Africa. Continuing political conflicts in Benin prevented her from being an independent artist in her own country and led her to relocate to Paris in 1983.
While working various day jobs to pay for her tuition, Kidjo studied music at the CIM, a reputable jazz school in Paris where she met musician and producer Jean Hebrail, with whom she has composed most of her music. She started out as a backup singer in local bands. In 1985, she became the frontsinger of the known Euro-African jazz/rock band Jasper van’t Hof’s Pili Pili. Three Pili Pili studio albums followed: Jakko (1987), Be In Two Minds (1988, produced by Marlon Klein) and Hotel Babo (1990). By the end of the 1980s, she had become one of the most popular live performers in Paris and recorded a solo album called Parakou for the Open Jazz Label. She was then discovered in Paris by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who signed her in 1991. She recorded four albums for Island until Blackwell’s departure from the label. In 2000 she was signed in New York by Columbia Records, for which label she recorded two albums.
Her first album for Island Records was recorded between Miami and Paris and produced by Miami Sound Machine drummer Joe Galdo and features Branford Marsalis and Manu DiBango on saxophones. It was released worldwide in 1991 and reached number one on the Billboard World Music chart. Music videos for the singles “We We” and “Batonga” were released and Kidjo made her first world tour, appearing at many festivals and headlining the Olympia Hall in Paris on October 31, 1992. Logozo is ranked number 37 in the Greatest Dance Albums of All Time list compiled by the Thump web site.
Released in 1994, the album Ayé was produced by David Z at Prince’s Paisley Park Studio in Minneapolis and by Will Mowat at Soul To Soul studio in London. It includes the single “Agolo”, which gave Kidjo her first Grammy nomination.
Kidjo and Jean Hebrail traveled all over Benin in 1995 to record the traditional rhythms that would form the base for the Fifa album. Carlos Santana appears on “Naima”, a piece Kidjo wrote for her daughter. The single “Wombo Lombo” and its video was a big success all over Africa in 1996.
In 1998, she started a trilogy of albums (Oremi, Black Ivory Soul and Oyaya) exploring the African roots of the music of the Americas.
Produced by Peter Mokran and Jean Hebrail, recorded in New York, Oremi is a collection of songs mixing African and African-American influences. Cassandra Wilson, Branford Marsalis, Kelly Price and Kenny Kirkland collaborated with Kidjo on this project. The opening track is a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child”.
Black Ivory Soul
In 2002, Kidjo traveled to Salvador de Bahia to start recording the Axe percussion grooves for this album, based on Afro-Brazilian culture. She worked with songwriters Carlinhos Brown and Vinicius Cantuária. On the Brazilian version of the album Gilberto Giljoined her on “Refavela” and Daniella Mercury on “Tumba”. Dave Matthews appears on the song “Iwoya”.
Produced by Steve Berlin from Los Lobos and by the pianist Alberto Salas, released in 2004, Oyaya! mixes Latin and Caribbean music with African guitars. The French Guyanese Henri Salvador, who was 86 at the time of the recording, joined Kidjo on the song “Le Monde Comme un Bébé”.
Angélique Kidjo released the album Djin Djin on May 1, 2007. Many guests appear on the album including Josh Groban, Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys, Joss Stone, Peter Gabriel, Amadou and Mariam, Ziggy Marley, and Branford Marsalis. The title refers to the sound of a bell in Africa that greets each new day. The album, produced by Tony Visconti, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music album and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding World Music album.
Õÿö, released in Europe on January 19, 2010 and in America on April 6, 2010, pays tribute to the music of Kidjo’s childhood in Benin. It mixes traditional music, Miriam Makeba’s songs, classic soul of the 1960s and 1970s and even a Bollywood song. Dianne Reeves appears on Aretha Franklin’s “Baby I Love You”, Bono and John Legend on Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up, for which Kidjo recorded a video with the Fela! dancers and Roy Hargrove on Santana’s Samba Pa Ti. Produced by Kidjo and Jean Hebrail, the album was arranged in conjunction with the Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke. Õÿö was nominated for Best Contemporary World Music Album for the 53rd Grammy Awards.
Spirit Rising, the live album from Kidjo’s PBS Special performance, was released in North America on February 22, 2012. It features a collection of songs from her entire career played live in Boston with special guests Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend, Dianne Reeves, Branford Marsalis, Christian McBride and Josh Groban. She sings a version of “Redemption Song” with the Kuumba Singers.
On January 28, 2014, Kidjo released a new album, EVE, dedicated to the women of Africa, to their resilience and their beauty “Eve is an album of remembrance of African women I grew up with and a testament to the pride and strength that hide behind the smile that masks everyday troubles,” says Kidjo. She travelled to Kenya and Benin, from South to North and back, armed with a six track field recorder, to capture the sweet rhythmic harmonies and chants of traditional women choirs. With the contribution of the Beninese percussionists from the Gangbe Brass Band, Kidjo laid the musical foundation of the album in New York with an ensemble of top session musicians—guitarist (and fellow Benin native) Lionel Loueke, guitarist Dominic James, drummer Steve Jordan, bass great Christian McBride—under the guidance of producer Patrick Dillett, a longtime collaborator of David Byrne. Helping the singer fulfill her vision on “Eve” are a host of exciting prominent newcomers to her musical circle, including guitarist and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend, Nigerian Folk singer Aṣa on “Eva”, legendary pianist Dr. John, who adds his New Orleans magic to “Kulumbu”; The Kronos Quartet and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, The traditional Congolese song “Bana” features the vocals of Kidjo’s mother Yvonne. The album debuted at number 1 in the Billboard World Music chart. The album EVE was rated #1 in the Top 12 of World Music albums for 2014 by Radio France Internationale. Its opening track, “M’Baamba”, featured in the New York Times′ “Top 10 songs of 2014” list. EVE won the Grammy for Best World Music Album at the 57th Grammy Awards.
Angélique Kidjo SINGS with the Orchestre Phiharmonique Du Luxembourg
On March 31, 2015, Kidjo released her collaboration with the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra. The album contains orchestral versions of 9 songs from previous albums and 2 original songs: Nanae and Otishe. All the songs are arranged by Gast Waltzingand David Laborier and the orchestra is conducted by Gast Waltzing. The Australian newspaper noted: “Kidjo opens what’s arguably her most ambitious album by paying homage to her heroine, Miriam Makeba. None of her three previously released versions of Malaika can match the majesty and grandeur of this latest spine-tingling rendition, which features the singer in superlative voice (in Swahili) backed by the strings and wind instruments of the 110-piece Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. Elsewhere, the consummate guitar playing of Kidjo’s compatriot Lionel Loueke and Brazilian Romero Lubambo augment conductor-trumpeter Gast Waltzing’s sumptuous arrangements. Sultry flute and flugelhorn helps Kidjo tease the nuances out of Carlos Santana’s smouldering Samba Pa Ti. In Fifa and Naima, swelling strings and soaring vocals follow tender a cappella intros. In Loloye, the strings flutter like a flock of flamingoes as horns ascend like eagles. Female back-up vocals lift Ominira and the previously unreleased Namae. A truly beautiful album, Sings combines the stately qualities of classical music with the coolness of jazz and the fervour of African and Brazilian rhythms.”. Says Rhythms Magazine’s Tony Hillier, “Sings is arguably the most ambitious and spiritually arresting album the New York-based West African singer has recorded in a long and distinguished career.” The album won the Grammy Award in the Best World Music Album category
Memoir: Spirit Rising, My Life, My Music
With Rachel Wenrick, Kidjo has written a memoir entitled Spirit Rising. It was published by Harper Collins on January 7, 2014. Desmond Tutu wrote the preface and Alicia Keys the foreword. On the back cover, Bill Clinton is quoted as saying: “The only thing bigger than Angélique Kidjo’s voice is her heart. In this evocative memoir, Kidjo chronicles an inspiring life of music and activism, and raises a passionate call for freedom, dignity, and the rights of people everywhere.”
Collaboration with Philip Glass: IFÉ
January 17, 2014, saw the premiere of IFÉ: Three Yoruba songs for Angelique Kidjo and the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer at the Philharmonie hall in Luxembourg. Philip Glass wrote the orchestral music based on three creation poems in Yoruba sung by Kidjo. In the program notes, Philip Glass says: “Angelique, together we have built a bridge that no one has walked on before.” The piece made its American premiere with the San Francisco Symphonyto a sold out crowd in the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall on July 10, 2015.
Kidjo has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. With UNICEF, she has travelled to many countries in Africa. Reports on her visits can be found on the UNICEF site: Benin, Senegal, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Syria, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Haiti.
Along with Mary Louise Cohen and John R. Phillips,] Kidjo founded The Batonga Foundation, which gives girls a secondary school and higher education so that they can take the lead in changing Africa. The foundation is doing this by granting scholarships, building secondary schools, increasing enrollment, improving teaching standards, providing school supplies, supporting mentor programs, exploring alternative education models and advocating for community awareness of the value of education for girls.
She campaigned for Oxfam at the 2005 Hong Kong WTO meeting, for their Fair Trade Campaign and travelled with them in North Kenya and at the border of Darfur and Chad with a group of women leaders in 2007 and participated in the video for the In My Name Campaign with will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas.
She hosted the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Prize for Achievement in African Leadership in Alexandria, Egypt, on November 26, 2007, and on November 15, 2008, in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, on November 14, 2009, and in Mauritius on November 20, 2010. She hosted the “Africa Celebrates Democracy Concert” organized by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in Tunis on November 11, 2011, and sang at the Award Ceremony on November 12, 2011, also in Dakar on November 10, 2012, Addis Ababa in November 2013 and Accra in November 2015.
Since March 2009, Kidjo has been campaigning for “Africa for women’s rights”. This campaign was launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
On September 28, 2009, UNICEF and Pampers launched a campaign to eradicate Tetanus “Give The Gift Of Life” and asked Kidjo to produce the song “You Can Count On Me” to support the campaign. Each download of the song donates a vaccine to a mother or a mother-to-be.
With Jessica Biel and Peter Wentz, Angélique Kidjo was a LiveEarth Ambassador for the 2010 Run For Water events.
Kidjo has recorded a video based on her song “Agolo” and on the images of Yann Arthus-Bertrand for the United Nations SEAL THE DEAL Campaign to prepare for the Copenhagen Climate Change summit.
The Commission of the African Union (AU) announced on July 16, 2010, the appointment of Angélique Kidjo as one of 14 Peace Ambassadors to support the implementation of the 2010 Year of Peace and Security programme.
She appears in the Sudan365: Keep the Promise video to support the peace process in Darfur.
In June 2010, she contributed the song “Leila” to the Enough Project and Downtown Records’ Raise Hope for Congo compilation. Proceeds from the compilation fund efforts to make the protection and empowerment of Congo’s women a priority, as well as inspire individuals around the world to raise their voice for peace in Congo.
In 2011, Kidjo collaborated with Forró in the Dark and Brazilian Girls on the track “Aquele Abraço” for the Red Hot Organization’s most recent charitable album Red Hot + Rio 2. The album is a follow-up to the 1996 Red Hot + Rio. Proceeds from the sales will be donated to raise awareness and money to fight AIDS/HIV and related health and social issues. Kidjo recorded a version of Fela Kuti’s “Lady” with Questlove and Tune-Yards for the Red Hot Organization in 2012.
In September 2012, she was featured in a campaign called “30 Songs/30 Days” to support Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a multi-platform media project inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book.
On February 18, 2013, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Kidjo was the host of a night of celebration for the cultural heritage of Mali. The event included performances by many Malian artists.
On May 22, 2014, Kidjo met with First lady Michelle Obama to discuss international girls’ education, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House.
On September 21, 2014, Kidjo was one of the endorsees of the People’s Climate March. She joined the march in New York, along with Mary Robinson, and was interviewed by Amy Goodman for Democracy Now.
November 2014 saw Kidjo collaborating with many other artists in Band Aid 30, the 30th-anniversary version of the 1980s supergroup.
In 2015 she signed an open letter which the ONE Campaign had been collecting signatures for; the letter was addressed to Angela Merkel and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, urging them to focus on women as they serve as the head of the G7 in Germany and the AU in South Africa respectively, which will start to set the priorities in development funding before a main UN summit in September 2015 that will establish new development goals for the generation.
Kidjo is a contributor to the Art Of Saving A Life Campaign initiated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
On September 25, 2015, she sang Afirika at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in support of the launch of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development along with Shakira after a speech by Pope Francis and before Malala.
Kidjo married French musician and producer Jean Hébrail in 1987. They have a daughter, Naima, born in 1993.