The Inspiring Journey of Africa’s most celebrated female singer: Angelique Kidjo

The Beninese singer, songwriter, actress and activist “Angelique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, popularly know as Angelique Kidjo was born on the 14th of July, 1960. She is of Nigerian descent, she was born in Ouidah, French Dehomey (now Benin). Angelique Kidjo music elements include the Afropop, jazz, Caribbean zonk, Congolese rumba gospel and Latin styles. She’s fluent in five different languages: French, Fon, Gen (Mina), Yoruba and English, She sings in all of them and also in Swahili language.

Her father is originally from the Fon people of Quidah and her mother is from the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Kidjo grew up listening to Beninese traditional music and at a very early age she was performing with the mother’s theather troupe, which built her foundation of appreciating traditional music and dance. She joined a band in her school called ” Led Sphinx” and started singing, she was successful as a teenager with her adaptation of Miriam Makeba’s “Led Troisz” which played on national radio stations.

She recorded an album named “pretty” with the Cameroonian producer Ekambi Brilliant and her brother Oscar, the album featured the song Gbe Agossi, Ninive and a tribute song to one of her role models Bella Bellow. Her album was a success and she toured all over west Africa. In 1983 she relocated to Paris because of continuous political conflict in Benin which prevented her from being an independent artist in her own country.

started music at the CIM, a reputable jazz school in Paris, while working various day jobs to pay for her tuition. She met Jean Hebrail, a producer and musician whom she composed most her music with, they both got married. She joined a band called Jasper Van’t Hot’s Euro-African Jazz/rock band pili pili, after being a back up artist for sometimes, she became the front singer, she turned the most popular live performers in Paris after 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 1980s, Angelique recorded a solo album called parakou after which she was discovered and signed by island Records in Paris in 1991 and her second album was released.

She gained a huge and loyal fan base after the release of her second album, her outfit and appearance also help in bringing her to the spotlight, she looked very different from other female vocalists.
Kidjo released a bona fide international hit in the year 1994, her album titled “Aye” received a lot of acceptance and reviews all over Africa and Europe. She followed that album up with another masterpiece tagged “Fifa” which was a competition of tape recording she and her husband made, the album is made up of traditional instrumentalists during a tour of small town in Benin. They mixed sounds like traditional flutes, cow horns, bamboo percussion, American gospel, rap and modern African pop.

kidjo’s next three albums formed parts of a trilogy exploring Africa derived music style of the Western Hemisphere. She released “Oremi” on the island label in 1998, later on she did a U.S chapter of the trilogy, this album is a fusion of traditional music from Benin with black American styles, it featured her cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child”, the U.S chapter in the trilogy album won kidjo a spot on the all female Lilith fair tour in the united states of America.

After the departure of Chris Blackwell, she signed a deal with Columbia Records, New York in 2000, same year she returned to her African diaspora trilogy with ” Black Ivory Soul” rhythms of the Brazilian state of Bahia was the focus of the album. Kidjo’s albums were fusion of musical elements, blending different series of genres, including Jazz, hiphop, samba, zouk, zairean rumba, salsa, funk, Cameroonian makossa, gospel and various Beninese traditional sound. Kidjo’s “Black ivory soul” album released in 2002, was a blending of Brazilian musical style with traditional west African rhythms. Same year UNICEF (united Nations Children’s funds) named her one of it’s goodwill ambassador. Her album “Oyaya” released in 2004 featured American musician Dave Mathews and her 2007 album featured various artists from international popular music scene, including Josh Groban, peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana and more.

2010 album titled “Oyo” was an album of covers. In the year 2011, the Guardian enlisted her as one of their top 199 mist inspiring women in the world. BBClisted her in it’s list of the continent’s 50 most iconic figures. Forbes magazine also ranked her as the first woman in their list of the most powerful celebrities in Africa.
Kidjo released another album “Spirit rising” in 2012, the album was a collection of live tracks. In 2013 kidjo was elected one of four vice president of the international confederation of society of authors and composers. Her Grammy wining album titled “Eve” released in 2014 was a tribute to African women. Angelique is the recent recipient of the 2015 crystal Awards given by the world economic forum in Davos. She also dropped her album “sings” a collaboration with the philharmonic orchestra of Luxembourg. She bagged the 2016 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Awards. In 2018 kidjo did a cover of Talking Heads “Remain in light” (1980) album and she paid homage the following year to Cuban American singer Celia Cruz with Celia. She won the German sustainability Awards in 2018.

Kidjo is an amazing performer, full of energy, her awesome voice and ability to flow with different language and culture all around the world has gained her much respect and fan base in the industry, her ability to blend different languages has made her exceptional from her fellow female vocalists.

In 2019 Angelique kidjo was named as the spokes person for the AFAWA initiative (Affirmative France Action for women in Africa) at the G7 summit to help close financial gap for women entrepreneur in Africa. She travels around the world advocating on behalf of children as a UNICEF and OXFAM goodwill Ambassador. She has also created her own foundation, Batonga, her foundation is dedicated to support the girl child education in Africa.

Her recent album named Celia was released on the 19th of April, 2019. It was produced by David Donatien and featured meshell Ndegeocello, Tony Allen and the Gangbe Brass Band. The album was called magnificent by the Guardian and it was given 5 stars by the financial times. The Celia album won the best world music album at the 2020 GRAMMY’s and it marks her fourth win in the category and overall.


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Abu Bakarr Jalloh

I am a Sierra Leonean freelance writer and storyteller. I was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I am passionate in telling inspiring African stories across the continent, and also tell the stories of Africans outside the continent. And also tell stories of African civilization. You can contact me on email: On WhatsApp: +23279777058

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