She could have been a benevolent ruler, with the proverbial velvet glove covering her iron fist.
Or just as easily, she could have been a fairy princess, fluttering over troubled land, waving her magic wand, sprinkling effervescent dust, making everything perfect and right.
Yet while she does not fit either of these personas, Angelique Kidjo is indeed a super power, an amazing ethereal presence, who wields her influence through her voice, her body — singing and dancing about peace, freedom, unconditional love and liberation for the oppressed. And oh yes, the Grammy Award winning, West Africa native flavors everything she does with an extra measure of pure, unadulterated soul.
The impact of Kidjo’s intense performance was heightened by the intimate setting at Montgomery County Community College’s Science Center Theatre, where she appeared on March 23. Truly an international entertainer, who puts a unique spin on the moniker “world music,” Kidjo sang in multiple languages, ranging from Fon, to Swahili, from English, to French and Hindi. Her set included a wide range of favorites she has been identified with including the hits “Agolo,” “Afirika,” and “Malaika.”
She opened up with “Atcha Houn,” a traditional melody from her native Benin, West Africa. This was the first song she ever sang in public, at the age of six, with her mother’s theater company.
“That’s when I got addicted to this microphone,” she said, laughing with the audience. “That’s a good addiction to have, right?” Kidjo thrilled the audience with arrangements of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” All night long, she kept the energy high, dancing, shaking and twirling all over the stage as she sang in her big, deep voice. Right up front, she established “The rules of my show, which are to sing when you feel like it and dance when you want to.”
Kidjo’s song and dance adventure featured an impeccable band of musicians, including guitarist Dominic James, who hails from New York City, bassist Itaiguara Brandao from Brazil, percussionist Magatte Sow, a New York born Senegalese, who currently resides in Los Angeles and trap drummer Daniel Freedman, from Brooklyn.
A petite woman with a bronze complexion that contrasts with her bleached blonde razor sharp short Afro, Kidjo wore a red, gold, and blue African print ankle length dress, low-heeled ankle boots, a fancy beaded necklace, dangling earrings and thin bracelets lined up both arms, gracefully approaching her elbows. Her elegant outfit allowed her ease of movement. Truly an iconic entertainer, Kidjo has appeared on the world’s finest stages, including Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House. She has collaborated with Bono, Dianne Reeves, Carlos Santana, Josh Groban, Peter Gabriel, John Legend and countless others. She has performed before heads of states as well as the Nobel Prize ceremonies.
Kidjo sought exile in Paris, when her homeland was overtaken by a Marxist dictator. There she developed her performing and recording expertise and was befriended by her personal idol and mentor, Miriam Makeba. She has been named an international UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and is the founder of her own organization, the Batonga Foundation which provides African girls with an education.
Slowing down for a momentary pause to speak with the audience, she said: “This next song, ‘Petite Fleur,” is dedicated to my father and all those musicians that mold the person I am today. My father passed away in 2008. He raised ten children, - seven boys and three girls. He sent all of us to school. He always said, ‘Education is the best thing any parent can offer to their children.’” She further explained that when her father received offers to marry off his daughters in exchange for money and material possessions, he refused, saying: “They are not merchandise. They are my children.”
Kidjo Also Dedicated “Petite Fleur” to the girls in Africa who are still being subjected to female genital mutilation. Voicing her opposition to the practice, Kidjo said, “I want them to develop without pain.” The emotional ballad started out with a duet with her bassist and as the song progressed, the rest of her band joined in.
Before the night was over, she also highlighted her percussionist, who worked wonders on the djembe drum and her guitarist, who played both electric and acoustic guitar. Ntshadi Mofokeng, a South African native who is a student at Bryn Mawr College exclaimed: “Oh my God, it’s a great time! She always gets you going. ‘Move On Up’ was my favorite. I first saw her sing that with John Legend at the World Cup in Johannesburg in 2010.” Mofokeng’s classmate, Sascha Patel, who hails from India, noted that, “The song ‘Ann’ was the most beautiful rendition of a Hindi song I have ever heard. It was really, really beautiful. I loved how the whole audience came to life.”
As typical during a Kidjo performance, she invited the audience to join her on the stage to sing and dance with her. “Each night wherever I go I try to empower people with my voice. We’re very powerful individually and collectively.” Hosted by Cultural Affairs Director Helen Haynes, Kidjo’s appearance was underwritten by the PEW Center for Arts and Heritage Music Project, as part of Montgomery County Community College’s “Africa: The Call and Response Series.” An Afro-Pop After Party, featuring DJ Rich
Medina, and dancers from the Kulu Mele Ensemble followed Kidjo’s performance.