The day after an appearance with the Brno Philharmonic and its chief conductor Dennis Russell Davies, the Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo, a leading figure of world music, will be presenting herself once again. The festival public will be able to enjoy and experience her unmistakable voice, energetic movement on stage, and perfect embodiment of a harmonious combination of different cultures and languages. She will demonstrate her enormous stylistic range from contemporary classical music to the traditional music of western Africa, gospel, and Latin styles, as well as jazz and Afro-pop. These genres have brought her worldwide fame, an enthusiastic public following, and critical acclaim.
Besides four Grammy Awards, Angélique Kidjo has won many other important prizes. The American weekly Time has called her “Africa’s premiere diva”, the BBC listed her among the 50 most iconic figures of the African continent, and the newspaper The Guardian named her as one of its top 100 most inspirational women in the world. The American magazine Forbes named Kidjo as the first woman on its list of Africa’s most influential celebrities. An incredibly energetic singer, actress, and songwriter, she has also garnered wide attention as an activist campaigning for support for children and as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and OXFAM. She has also founded a charity of her own, Batonga, which supports the education of young girls in Africa. One of the highpoints of her career and worldwide fame came on 11 November 2018, when she sang the song Blewu at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, appearing before the leaders of seventy countries and paying tribute to African soldiers.
Angélique Kidjo’s career began in 1981 with the publication of her first album, Pretty, followed by fourteen more over the decades. Four of her fifteen albums have won Grammy Awards, each time in the world music category. The albums in question are Djin djin (2008), EVE (2015), Sings (2016), and her most recent album Celia (2020). Kidjo conceived her latest album as a tribute to the Afro-Cuban singer Celia Cruz in an attempt to combine the salsa original with the music of western Africa. Here, the African rhythms in 6/8 time, a penetrating wind section, and intertwined melodic lines in the guitar create a sufficiently elemental foundation for the unleashing of the singer’s unbridled fierceness. Energy is the main feature of her musical expression. As she herself says, “The public gives me energy, and I have to give it back to them. If I were to kept it to myself, I wouldn’t be able to sleep for two days.” One of her earlier prize-winning albums is Sings, which presents what is truly world music created by the synergy of the west African singer with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. On it, Kidjo performs songs from her earlier albums, the most important of which for his is Malaika, a Tanzanian love song, which gave Kidjo the greatest boost on her childhood path towards fulfilling the dream of becoming a singer. Kidjo named EVE, another prize-winning album, for her mother. She dedicated it to Africa’s women and invited a number of important guests to join her on it, such as Dr. John, again the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, and the famed Kronos Quartet. The very first album for which Kidjo won a Grammy, titled Djin djin (freely translated as “Seize the day!”), meant a return to her Beninese roots, and she was joined by such stars as Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys, Branford Marsalis, Josh Groban, Peter Gabriel, and Ziggy Marley.
In 2016 at the 50th annual Montreux Jazz Festival, she launched a project with the title Angélique Kidjo and the African Women All-Stars, which Kidjo conceived as a tribute to African women and their musical creativity. In the course of a single, unusual concert, Kidjo appeared on stage successively alongside a wide variety of female African figures on the worldwide music scene, such as the Nigerian-French singer Asa, Dobet Gnaoré from Ivory Coast, Lura from Cape Verde, and the Trio Teriba, which takes the traditions of Benin as its point of departure. The repertoire of the concert consisted of famous songs by the guest artists and their collaboration with Kidjo. In a concert review, the Swiss newspaper Le Temps wrote: “Last Sunday the Beninese singer created a concert of absolute beauty… She had invited a Nigeria, an Ivorian, a Cape Verdian, and 3 Beninese women…She is like an electric baobab whose voice resonates everywhere, far beyond the continent.”
Angélique Kidjo was born in Ouidah, a city in Benin. Her father is from the Fon ethnic group, while her mother is of the Yoruba people. From her early childhood, she listened to the traditional music of Benin and to the South African singer Miriam Makebau. Among her other favourites are the trumpet player Hugh Masekela along with James Brown, Manu Dibango, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Wonder. She began developing her relationship with the traditional music and dance of Benin at the age of six, when she appeared with her mother’s theatrical troupe and later with a school ensemble. She had her first public success already as a teenager with her arrangement of the song Les Trois Z, which was broadcast on radio in Benin. After that, she recorded her first album, Pretty, and its success enabled Kidjo to travel freely around western Africa, but political conflicts in Benin threatened to take away the young singer’s artistic freedom, and this ultimately led to her move in 1983 to Paris, where she had became one of the best known performing artists by the end of the 1980s.