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Angelique Kidjo’s success has been attributed to her daring experimentation – mixing traditional African music with Western classical instrumentation │© IFOF

How Angelique Kidjo opens new doors for African music

Angelique Kidjo, the Beninese-born singer and songwriter, received her third “Best World Music Album” Grammy Award for her 2015 release Sings in February. It’s the artist’s second consecutive win in that category: her 2014 album Eve, which paid tribute to African women, won last year. 

Sings is a collaboration of Kidjo with the 110-piece Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg, led by the renowned conductor and composer Gast Waltzing. 

Kidjo reimagines nine classic songs from her 24-year repertoire and two new ones (Otishe and Mamae), blending European classical traditions with the powerful rhythmic sounds of her native West African country.

A visibly happy Kidjo, dressed in a colourful African dress, said: “I want to dedicate this Grammy to all the traditional musicians in Africa, in my country, to all the young generation.”

Kidjo’s success has been attributed to her daring experimentation – mixing traditional African music with Western classical instrumentation. She has enjoyed a long history of notable collaborations with greats from the jazz and pop worlds, including Carlos Santana, Bono, John Legend, Josh Groban, Peter Gabriel, Branford Marsalis, Dianne Reeves, Roy Hargrove and Alicia Keys.

Says Kidjo of her collaboration on Sings: “The orchestra brings different textures to my life and music. Unlike in pop music, the orchestra doesn’t follow you; it leads and dares you to follow it. If you don’t do this successfully, the songs suffer and the communication is lost. But I love the challenge of doing new things. I never want to get too comfortable with what I’m doing, and I love my work too much to repeat myself.”

Kidjo described the album as an artistic challenge as traditional African bands follow the lead of the soloist much more closely, unlike Western orchestras which generally play off refined scores. Kidjo, who is based in New York, said she was open to further work with artists of other genres. “I work with everyone who believes that music is the tool of peace. For me, music is the only form of art that connects the entire world,” she said after accepting the award.

Kidjo hailed the Grammys as being increasingly open-minded. “What is great at the Grammys is to have people who aren’t only into commercial things.”

Music industry watchers say Kidjo’s success will open more doors for African traditional genres to break on to the international stage, producing new sounds through collaboration with artists from other parts of the world. “What astounds me more and more is the openness of spirit of the Grammys compared with other events,” she said. “They are showing musical diversity to the rest of the world.” 

The 55-year-old singer has also been praised for celebrating the continent’s women beyond the media spotlight through her passionate advocacy and philanthropy in Africa.

Vivian Asamoah

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