Music industry veteran Angélique Kidjo has been singing and writing songs since the age of six. Born in Cotonou, Benin, she was inspired by other African singers and activists like the South African Miriam Makeba and Togolese Bella Bellow in her formative years. Kidjo’s family was always open-minded and supportive of her music career. In fact, her mother, whom she also names as one of the top three mentors in her life, once gave her the valuable advice to become "naked spiritually" on stage. Admittedly at first Kidjo didn’t quite understand it, but eventually it clicked. Now, one of the great joys of her career, in addition to collaborating with other musical greats, is performing.
Also instrumental in Kidjo’s life and development were human rights and political icons Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. “Desmond Tutu for his kindness and passion for justice and humanity. Nelson Mandela [because he] taught us the power of forgiveness,” she explains. Like them, Kidjo’s long-term goals and aspirations are linked to humanity. She aspires to help reduce prejudice and ignorance about other cultures, continue the fight to stamp out inequality, show the world the beauty of the continent of Africa and ensure that its girls (and boys) are educated.
But when she wants to “block out all the ugliness, the noise, stress and despair of our political landscape,” she throws on what she considers the soundtrack to her life, Caetano Veloso's A Foreign Sound. Now living in New York with honorary doctorates from Yale University, the Berklee College of Music and Middlebury College, she reflects on one thing she would have told her younger self—“Listen to classical music!” Her well-rounded musical tastes are reflected in her current projects: a Talking Heads “Remain In Light” cover album produced by Grammy Award-winning Yeezy-collaborator Jeff Bhasker, a Celia Cruz tribute album and a collaboration with trumpet genius Ibrahim Maalouf. Whether it is her raw talent, passion, activism or overall commitment to advancing the continent of Africa, everything Kidjo brings to the table is music to our ears.