Africa’s Premier Diva
“The only thing bigger than Angélique Kidjo’s voice is her heart. In this evocative memoir (Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music), Kidjo chronicles an inspiring life of music and activism, and raises a passionate call for freedom, dignity, and the rights of people everywhere.” – Bill Clinton
There is no African female singer/songwriter alive bigger than the Cotonou-born Grammy Award winner, Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, better known as Angélique Kidjo.
Angélique Kidjo was born on July 14, 1960 in Cotonou, the largest city and commercial center of Bénin République, to a father from the Fon tribe of Ouidah, while her mother is Yoruba. Young Angélique Kidjo was largely inspired by her mother who had a theater troupe, and was thrust into the world of showbiz at the age of 6, when she had to replace an indisposed child actress.
By the time Angélique Kidjo was in school, she was singing in the school band, Les Sphinx. Her powerful voice was introduced to the public ear as a teenager, when her recording of Miriam Makeba’s “Les Trois Z” got considerable airplay on national radio.
Teaming up with her brother, Oscar and the Cameroonian producer, Ekambi Brilliant, Angélique Kidjo recorded her first album, Pretty in 1981. Although the success of the album allowed her to tour West Africa, she had to relocate to Paris in 1983 following political tension in her country.
While in Paris, Angélique Kidjo worked various day jobs to pay her tuition at CIM, a reputable Jazz school where she was studying music. It was there she met musician and producer Jean Hebrail with whom she has composed most of her music, and she got married to.
It was not until 1989 that Angélique Kidjo released her second album, Parakou. In between, she was a backup singer for local bands, before becoming lead vocalist for the Euro-African jazz/rock band, Pili-Pili in 1985.
Angélique Kidjo had become one of the most popular live performers in Paris by the end of the ‘80s and she recorded three albums with Pili-Pili, Jakko (1987), Be In Two Minds (1988), and Hotel Babo (1990). In 1991, she was discovered in Paris by Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell who signed her up and she released four albums on the label, Logozo (1991), Ayé (1994), Fifa (1996) and Orẹmi (1998).
Following Blackwell’s departure, Angélique Kidjo signed with Columbia Records where she released two albums, Black Ivory Soul (2002) and Oyaya! (2004) to complete a trilogy which began with her last Island Records release Orẹmi. In 2007, she released Djin Djin on Razor & Tie label and bagged her first Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album in 2008.
Not content with merely making melodious music, Angélique Kidjo has been a frontline activist, lending her voice to the cries of the underprivileged in society. The world renowned singer/songwriter has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002, while she was appointed a Peace Ambassador of the African Union (AU) in 2010.
Angélique Kidjo has collaborated with some of the greatest artists and musicians in the world, such as Andrea Bocelli, Peter Gabriel, Branford Marsalis, Carlos Santana, Ziggy Marley, Josh Groban, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Philip Glass, Herbie Hancock, Ayo, Bono, Asa, among many others. In 2015, she bagged her second Grammy for her 2014 album Eve.
In 2007, Angélique Kidjo who is fluent in her native Fon, Yoruba, French and English and sings in all four languages, launched the Batonga Foundation to empower young women and girls in Africa through secondary school and higher education. Although based in Washington DC, the foundation presently is operational in Bénin, Cameroun, Ethiopia, Mali and Sierra Leone.
Angélique Kidjo has sold out shows and concerts and won countless awards both in music and for her charity and activism work. She has a daughter, Naima born to her husband Jean in 1993.
On March 31, 2015, she released her latest effort Angélique Kidjo Sings with The Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg.
Afro Tourism salutes this legendary singer/songwriter, activist, wife, mother, African star, national hero, and city icon Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo!
Did you know?
- In 1991, her first album on Island Records, Logozo reached #1 on Billboard’s World Music chart.
- The music video for “Agolo” from the 1994 album Ayé earned her a first Grammy nomination.
- UNICEF named her a Goodwill Ambassador in 2002.
- On November 29, 2003, she was part of the lineup of international stars who sang at the first 46664 Concert hosted by Nelson Mandela at the Green Point Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa.
- The Guardian® listed her as one of the “100 Most Inspiring Women in the World,” BBC named her one of 50 African Icons, Time® tagged her Africa’s Premier Diva, and Forbes Afrique® had her on its cover for the Top 100 Most Influential Women.
- In 2007, she launched the Batonga Foundation. According to her, ‘Batonga’ was a word she made up in response to taunts from boys when she was growing up at a time when it was not so popular for girls to go to school. The word later became the title of one of her hit songs on her album Logozo.
- Her album Djin Djin won the Grammy Award in 2008.
- At the Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg, she sang at the opening ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted in South Africa.
- In January 2015, she received the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum. Later in March, she won a second Grammy with the album Eve. Later on the 25th of September, she sang at the opening of the 2015 UN General Assembly.
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‘Niyi David explores the beautiful and enthralling continent of Africa with Afro Tourism, capturing colorful memories of places, cultures and events in words and images.