Angélique Kidjo gives a Free SummerStage Anywhere concert on the NYCSummerStage YouTube on Friday, June 26, 2020 from 7-8pm. FREE
“We have to fight for our freedom. We never can be complacent. We never can sit tight thinking our freedom is set in stone. We have to fight for it. And preserve it.”Angélique Kidjo, SummerStage Anywhere, June 26, 2020
Kidjo is a multi-Grammy winning, Beninese singer, UNICEF and OXFAM goodwill Ambassador who launched her music career in France. She is an African woman of the world who speaks fluent Fon, Yoruba, Gen, French and English. She is a living tour of West Africa.
Her father is Fon (mostly Benin) and her mother is Yoruba (mostly Nigeria). Fon are known for powerful women. Yoruba are known as good diplomats. Angelique is both.
She works the musical traditions of Africa and the African diaspora in the Americas. A lot of African-American culture is rooted in Yoruba tradition, especially in Cuba, but all across Latin America.
French West Indies
As you travel from island to island across the Caribbean, you encounter various cultural mixes based on where the Africans came from.
There are many people with a Fon heritage in the French West Indies including Haiti, Dominican Republic and Trinidad & Tobago. New Orleans culture is probably Fon too because it was a French city with a Caribbean culture. Jazz is from New Orleans (and before that the Caribbean).
The blues is the root music of the United States. We haven’t found any musicologists who say this, but the blues arose around the Lower Mississippi when it was still French. The “blue note,” the diminished seventh, is an African form. Somehow this is all related.
“Remain in Light”
The artist is perhaps best known for her 2018 cover of the Talking Heads album “Remain in Light” (1980).
Talking Heads formed out of art school in New York. In “Remain in Light” they found inspiration in Africa in the same way that Picasso did.
The album was the first popular introduction of Yoruba traditions to many Americans of the United States, including this writer.
I never put this together before, but David Byrne, the lead singer of Talking Heads, must have encountered these Yoruba influences from our Cuban and Puerto Rican communities in New York.
In her 2019 album “Celia,” Kidjo channels the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. Being Cuban, Cruz knew Yoruba traditions. They were part of her life and music too.
Kidjo first heard Celia in 1974 when Cruz toured Africa.
It’s a great album. Kidjo sings Cruz classics like “La Vida es un Carnaval,” “Quimbara” and “Bemba Colorá.” She also covers “Toro Mata,” the Afro-Peruvian song that Celia did as a salsa.
Our favorites are “Eleguá” and “Yemayá,” probably because they are both very present in our lives here in the southernmost island of New York: Puerto Rico.
It’s interesting to listen to this music sung with an African accent, to music that also sounds more African than Caribbean. You can hear the Afropop. We are deep down in the roots. We’re pretty sure that Celia would have loved it.
These African traditions evolved into Caribbean Carnival, the blues, jazz, swing, rock, salsa, reggaeton and Latin trap – both music and dancing.
Ultimately, these are the foundational traditions of U.S. American pop culture. New York City remixes these traditions and sends them back out into the world.
It’s striking how these traditions came to the Americas, evolved in the Caribbean, got remixed in New York City and pushed out into the world, and are then reworked by Kidjo and sent back out into the world again.
This is who we really are ~ the most incredible mixes of each other.