Angelique Kidjo is a Beninese singer-songwriter, actress and human rights activist. She is a UNICEF international goodwill ambassador, the first African woman to be appointed in 2002. Also, she is a four-time Grammy award-winner and one of the greatest artists in international music.
Altogether, Kidjo has released thirteen albums, several hit singles, videos and soundtrack for movies, jingles, and documentaries.
Also, she is the co-founder of the Batonga Foundation. And, as an activist, she has advocated for women, health, peace and other global issues, both as an individual and through different organisations including Oxfam.
Angelique Kidjo Background
Angelique Kidjo was born on July 14, 1960, in Ouidah, Benin into the family of nine. Her father is of Fon descent, and the mother from Yoruba origin. So, due to her background, she is multilingual; fluent in French, English and three other African languages including Fon and Yoruba. Also, both her parents were involved in music; her father was a musician, and her mother a choreographer & theatre director.
As a result, at a young age of 6, Kidjo was already performing with her mother’s theatre troupe, thereby giving her an early appreciation for traditional music and dance. Also, she was singing in her school band, Les Sphinx and when she grew older, she sang in her brother’s rock rhythm and blues band.
As a teenager, Kidjo found success when her adaptation of Mariam Makeba’s Les Trois Z was played on the national radio. At age 20, she was already a professional singer.
Kidjo was inspired by varieties of music from African artists such as; Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Wonder and Otis Redding, Fela Kuti, James Brown, and many others.
Angelique Kidjo Career
In 1983, she relocated to Paris due to political unrest in Benin that prevented her from being an independent artist in her own country.
Firstly, she started as a back-up singer in some local bands. Then, in 1985, she became the front singer for Jasper Van’t Hof’s Euro-African jazz/rock outfit Pili Pili. At Pili Pili, three albums were released; Jakko (1987), Be In Two Minds (1988,) and Hotel Babo (1990). Also, she attended CIM, a reputable Jazz school where she studied Music.
Then, in 1988, Angelique recorded an album, Pretty. It was with a Cameroonian producer Ekambi Brilliant and her brother Oscar. It featured the songs “Ninive”, “Gbe Agossi” a tribute to the singer Bella Bellow, one of her role models. The album became a success and as a result, made her tour all over West Africa.
Subsequently, she released the solo album Parakou in the 1990s for the Open Jazz label. Then, based on both her solo record and work with Pili Pili, she came to the attention of Island Records’ Chris Blackwell who signed her in 1991. Also, she recorded four albums for Island until Blackwell’s departure from the label. In 2000, she was signed by Columbia Records, New York, and she recorded two albums there.
Subsequently, she began to record other hit albums.
While in Paris, Angelique met Jean Hebrial. Jean is a French musician and producer who assisted her with musical productions. Due to the strong chemistry between them, they got married in 1987. Then, in 1993, they gave birth to their daughter, Naimat Hebrial Kidjo.
Naimat is an actress, writer and a source of inspiration to her mother.
Angelique Kidjo Albums
Angelique has performed in several local and international concerts such as; the Carnegie Hall, NYC, The UN General Assembly, Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and many others. She has also performed before high profiled individuals in the world. She has produced several albums, hit singles, videos, and soundtracks for TV shows, movies, and documentaries.
Her albums include;
- Pretty, 1981
- Parakou, 1989
- Logozo, 1991
- Aye, 1994
- Fifa, 1996
- Oremi, 1998
- Black Ivory Soul, 2002
- Oyaya, 2004
- Djin Djin, 2007
- Oyo, 2010
- Spirit Rising, 2012
- Eve, 2014
- Sings with the Ochestre Philharmonique Du Luxemborg, 2015
- Remain in Light, 2018
- Celia, 2019
Aside from several other nominations, her albums; Djin Djin, Eve, Sings and Celia won the Grammy Awards in 2008, 2015, 2016 and 2020 respectively.
In 2014, she released her first book, a memoir title Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music. Also, she released the book; La voix est le miroir de l’ame.
The Batonga Foundation
Angelique Kidjo is an activist, passionate about women and girls’ education. Aside from being the UNICEF international goodwill ambassador and champion of several campaigns, she co-founded The Batonga Foundation. The foundation was created in 2006 with Mary Louise Cohen and John R. Philips.
Basically, it seeks to reach young women and girls in Benin with the knowledge and skills they need to be agents of change in their own lives and communities. It supports primary, secondary and higher institution for girls in Africa. Also, it provides scholarship grants, builds secondary schools, increases enrollment, improves teaching standards, provides school supplies, supports mentor programs, explores alternative education models and advocates for community awareness of the value of education for girls.
The name Batonga came from one of the songs sang by Kidjo. Also, the initiative has several partnering organisation which supports its mission.
Awards And Recognition
Angelique Kidjo is a multi-award-winning singer-songwriter. She has received several local and international recognition. Some of it include;
- Prix Decouverte RFI SACEM, 1991
- Octave RFI, 1992
- Prix Afrique en Creation, 1992
- Danish Music Awards, Best Female Singer, 1995
- Kora Music Awards, Best African Female Artist, 1997
- MOBO Awards, Best World Music Act, 2002
- Medaille De Vermeil De La Ville De Paris, 2004
- Africa-Festival Award, 2006
- SAFDA African Pride Award, 2006
- Crystal Award, World Economic Forum, 2015
- Conscience Award, Amnesty International Ambassador, 2016
- Antonio Carlos Jobim Award, 2007
- N.A.A.C.P Image Award for Outstanding World Music Album, 2008
- Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album, 2008
- Go Global World Music Award, 2008
- Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic, 2008
- Commander of the National Order of Benin, 2008
- National Council for Research on Women, 2009
- Afropop Hall of Fame, 2009
- New York Women’s Foundation, 2009
- Premio Tenco Prize, 2009
- Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 2010
- Grand Prix Des Musiques Du Monde De La Sacem, 2010
- Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary World Music Album, 2011
- Prix Special de la Francophonie, 2011
- Champions of the Earth Award, 2011
- Miroir Awards, World Music of the Festival d’ete de Quebec, 2012
- Trophee Des Arts, FIAF French Institute, Alliance Francaise, 2012
Other Awards Also Include;
- Keep A Child Alive’s Award for Outstanding Humanitarian Work with Oprah Winfrey, 2012
- Lifetime Achievement Award from the African Diaspora Awards, 2012
- Songlines Music Awards, Best Artist Category, 2013
- Confederation Internationale des Societes d’Auteurs et Compositeurs (CISAC), 2013
- Arms Around the Child Award, 2014
- The Dag Hammerskjold Fund, 2014
- All African Music Awards, 2014
- Visionary Leadership Award, 2015
- Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album, 2015
- Mappie Award, 2015
- David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award, 2015
- Impact Award, Population Council Organization, 2015
- Grammy Award, Best Contemporary World Music Album, Sings, 2015
- All Africa Leadership Award, 2016
- Ambassador of Conscience Award, Amnesty International, 2016
- Officer of the Order of Merit of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, 2016
- African Movie Academy Awards, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, 2017
- Grand Prix Des Musiques Du Monde, 2017
- Charles de Ferry de Fontnouvelle Award, 2018
- Prix De L’Artiste Citoven, 2018
- First World Pioneer Award, Songlines Magazine Music Awards, 2018
- German Sustainability Award, 2018
- Musicultura Unimarche Prize, Universities of Macerata and Camerino, 2019
- Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 2019
- Distinguished Artist Award, International Society for the Performing Arts, 2020
- Best World Music Album, 62 Annual Grammy Awards, 2020
- Africa’s premier Diva, Time Magazine, 2007
- 50 Most Iconic figures on the continent, BBC Africa, 2010
- One of the Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in art film, music and fashion The Guardian, 2011
- First woman among the 40 Most powerful Celebrities in Africa, Forbes Magazine, 2011
- The Undisputed Queen of African music, Daily Telegraph, 2012
- Africa’s greatest living diva, National Public Radio (NPR), 2013
- Most Influential Africans, New African Magazine & Jeune Afrique, 2014
- 100 most influential women, Forbes Afrique, 2015
Honorary Doctorates Degree
The following institutions have honored Kidjo with an honorary doctorate degree;
- Yale University
- Berklee College of Music
- Middlebury College
- UCLouvain University
Angelique Kidjo Quotes
“Your brain is your greatest weapon. Connect it to your heart, and you can go anywhere.”
“Everyone wins when children – and especially girls – have access to education. An educated girl is likely to increase her personal earning potential and prepare herself for a productive and fulfilling life, as well as reduce poverty in the whole community. Investing in girls’ education also helps delay early marriage and parenthood. Our booming economies in Africa need more female engineers, teachers, and doctors to prosper and sustain growth.”
“You cannot transform the society of the people if the people are not part of the change.”
“It is proven that when women are educated, the ability of the country goes up immediately.”
“From the moment you are clear in your vision of yourself and how you project that vision in your family, your community and in the world, that’s all that matters.”
“It doesn’t matter what challenge you face, the most important thing is, when you fall, how you rise and how high you want to go, where you want to go from that rise on.”
“I don’t care about the skin color, everybody is a human being. Beneath every skin color, you bleed red. That’s just the bottom line of the truth.”
“Education is very political, because when you educate the people, then you have a country that you can’t fool anymore.”
Lessons From The Life Of Angelique Kidjo
Diversity And Inclusion
We win when everyone is included.
Basically, Kidjo’s unique voice, stage display, and fluency in multiple languages and understanding of different cultures have earned her respect from her peers and expanded her horizon.
For instance, she sings with all kinds of elements and also displays some of her childhood experiences in Benin in her music. Also, she combines American R&B, funk, jazz, salsa, Cuban as well as influences from Europe and Latin America. This way, Africans as well as people from other continents feel included and can relate better with her songs.
Also, due to this diverse cultural display, her concerts quickly evolved into an international music scene and attracts people from all walks of life.
Take The Risk
At the time Kidjo left Benin for Paris, her career was already booming. However, she had to flee when the Benin government dictated what songwriters could sing. She moved on without compromising on her career and only returned when a change came.
Today, Kidjo’s success story has grown beyond Africa. If she had not left, she probably wouldn’t have gotten the international recognition she has.
Sometimes, as humans, we should not compromise our standard for the present. Although, taking a decision might be difficult, but a wise decision pays off eventually.
Entrepreneurship is about taking a risk and keeping up with the trends. It’s about being innovative in order to stay relevant.
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