Music Reviews
6:35 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

Angélique Kidjo Shouts Out Africa's Women With Funk And Fire

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 10:00 am

Angélique Kidjo started singing as a young girl in her native Benin, in West Africa. She moved on to Paris and Brooklyn — her current home — and, along the way, became one of the most acclaimed African singers alive.

Kidjo named her 10th album Eve, for her mother — and Yvonne Kidjo herself appears on the song "Bana," which urges the listener to value people over money. It's a sentiment in keeping with an album dedicated to the women of Africa, offering encouragement in song after song: Lift yourselves up. Marry who you love. Fight oppression. When Kidjo sings about these things, she does it with fire in her belly and funk in the groove.

The idea for the album began when Kidjo was swept into a group of singing women in Kenya. She worked a phone recording of that moment into a song, and then decided that women and women's voices should define the whole record. Later, she took her basic tracks to Benin, traveling its width and breadth, recording nine different choral groups to back up her own lead vocals. On Eve, the sings in multiple languages.

Kidjo says it wasn't always easy fitting these women's choirs into her sophisticated pop sound. "Are you kidding?" one group asked after hearing the track. "Do you really think we are going to sing that?" Kidjo's confident reply: "I'll teach you." She also put a few non-African musical guests through their paces. "Ebile" celebrates the pride parents take in their children over a tricky percussion groove from Benin and strings that work to keep up. The latter comes courtesy of the Kronos Quartet.

The women of Africa endure sometimes horrifying conditions and face huge challenges. But Angélique Kidjo says she believes with a passion that a better future awaits them. The singer's great gift is to pour what could so easily be anger and frustration into songs that uplift and inspire us. With Eve, she's done that again.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From Africa to France to America, Angelique Kidjo has a singing career that has bridged three continents. She began in her native Benin in West Africa, then moved to Paris and finally, Brooklyn. Kidjo's 13th album "Eve," is dedicated to the women of Africa. Our reviewer, Banning Eyre, has been listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: That's Yvonne Kidjo, Eve for short, singing a song she taught her daughter Angelique years ago in Benin. Kidjo named this album for her mother got her to sing on this song, "Bana," which says value people over money. If you don't have money, Kidjo told me, you still have your life. Be somebody. Do something.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: Song after song, this CD offers encouragement to the women of Africa. Lift yourselves up. Marry who you love. Fight oppression. When Kidjo sings about these things, she does it with fire in her belly and funk in the groove.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: This album started when Kidjo was swept into a group of singing women in Kenya. She worked a phone recording of that moment into a song, and then decided that women and women's voices should define the whole CD.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: Later, she took her basic tracks to Benin, traveling its width and breadth, and recording nine different choral groups to back up her own lead vocals. On "Eve," Kidjo sings in four different Beninese languages, Fon, Gur, Mina and on this song, Yoruba.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: Kidjo told me it wasn't always easy fitting these women's choirs into her sophisticated pop sound. "Are you kidding?" one group asked after hearing the track. "Do you really think we are going to sing that?" "I'll teach you," Kidjo replied. She also put a few non-African musical guests through their paces.

This song, "Ebile" celebrates the pride parents take in their children. It's built around a tricky percussion groove from Benin and those strings you hear working to keep up, that's the Kronos Quartet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: The women of Africa endure sometimes brutal conditions and face huge challenges. But Angelique Kidjo believes with a passion that a better future awaits them. Kidjo's great gift is to pour what could so easily be anger and frustration into songs that uplift and inspire us and she's done that again with "Eve."

SIEGEL: Banning Eyre is senior editor at AfroPop.org. He reviewed "Eve" by Angelique Kidjo. All this week, you can listen to her new album at NPRMusic.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.