London newspaper the Daily Telegraph deemed singer and social activist Angelique Kidjo “The undisputed Queen of African Music” when she performed at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games River of Music Festival a few months ago. Kidjo is coming to the Monterey Bay this Sunday night November 18th for a evening of music at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz.
Angelique Kidjo won a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music album for her recording Oyo featuring a traditional piece titled “Atcha Houn” sung in the language of Kidjo’s native West African country, Benin. Kidjo’s childhood was enriched by her parents’ love of music and dance. At age six, she began performing in her mother’s theater troupe learning the traditional music and dance of her country. As a teenager, Kidjo listened to a lot of 70’s rock n pop n soul, formed a band, had a national hit which allowed her to tour Europe and see the world, so to speak. Kidjo relocated to Paris in the early 80’s as the political situation in Benin made it difficult for artists and musicians to express themselves freely. There Kidjo fell in love with jazz, studied music at a jazz school and sang for several French fusion bands amassing a huge following until she was discovered by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, and signed to a four record deal in an attempt to make her a world beat pop star. Kidjo’s first Island release, 1991’s Logozo is a slick production packed with plenty of world techno –zouk style beats.
Now living in New York with her husband with whom she composes most of her music, it’s been more than 20 years since Kidjo lived in West Africa. The techno hip hop sound is long gone. Although she sings in four languages, Kidjo keeps close to her roots with her own unique vocal styling mixing her native Benin language with jazz vocaleze. She performs music from just about world genre there is, yet she still has a thing for her teen faves like James Brown, Nina Simone, George Gershwin and the Rolling Stones. She even includes an interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child – Slight Return” in her repertoire.
Angelique Kidjo is also a world class champion of African rights and has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2002. She founded the Batonga Foundation that funds new schools, teachers, suppliles, and scholarships making education available to African girls.
Kidjo’s latest album, Spirit Rising, is a live recording of a concert broadcast on PBS television last year and features several guests like jazz singer Diane Reeves and sax man Branford Marsalis. Angelique Kidjo performs Sunday night November 18 at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz. Showtime is 7:30 pm and it’s a production of Kuumbwa Jazz.