Angélique Kidjo is a legend of “Afro Pop” and is no stranger to our shores and especially WOMADelaide, Australia’s World Music festival of renown, where she is performing again this weekend. Born and raised in the former French colony of Benin, Kidjo enjoyed an education in music from an early age. The political turmoil in Benin drove her to relocate to Paris in 1983. Today she live in New York.
Kidjo told Rolling Stone recently that she discovered Remain In Light, the classic Talking Heads album from 1980, in Paris and thought to herself that there was something African to it. Her friends thought that was crazy talk but Talking Heads have said that the album was inspired by African Highlife music.
Kidjo went on to tell Rolling Stone that “I tried to keep the spirit of it, but yet bring it back to Africa” and the article notes that Kidjo’s versions of the songs on Remain In Light “contain a greater emphasis on rhythm and horns than the original”, and indeed this is true. She has also added to themes of Western colonisation on Listening Wind and Crosseyed and Painless and added African elements to its themes of conformism and alienation on, for example, Seen and Not Seen.
Angélique Kidjo has toured Remain In Light around the world but only the Sydney Opera House and WOMADelaide have been honoured with performances in Australia. Towards the end of the set at the Opera House on March 8, the power of her music was made manifest when Kidjo invited people on stage to dance while her incredible band earned their money keeping up a rollicking groove.
The amazing thing was that somehow without it being spoken, the group went from jigging away behind Kidjo to creating a circle and getting into a dance off. Some of the punters were fantastic. Everyone present had grins from ear to ear. It was that kind of night.
The show opened with Born under Punches, the first track on the Remain In Light album. A highlight, Kidjo emphasised the lyrics and delivered them powerfully. This was followed by Crosseyed and Painless and another African influenced track The Great Curve which brought the house down. The album’s big hit Once in a Lifetime while certainly fun on the night, is sonically and thematically very Western and quintessentially Talking Heads and so didn’t do so well from Kidjo’s makeover.
As great as the Remain In Light tunes were, it was Kidjo’s own songs that were the biggest crowd pleasers. It was during Tumba that the punters were brought onstage and Afrika could have gone on and on as far as the audience was concerned.