Angelique Kidjo (Singer / Songwriter)
Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kango Manta Zogbin Kidjo is a Grammy Award-winning Beninoise singer-songwriter and activist, noted for her diverse musical influences and creative videos.
BBC African Service included her in its list of the continent's 50 most iconic figures. Time Magazine called her "Africa's premier diva".
Her musical influences include the Afropop, Caribbean zouk, Congolese rumba, jazz, gospel, and Latin styles; as well as her childhood idols Bella Bellow, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Miriam Makeba and Carlos Santana.
Here she sings Malaika (Angel) live in Swahili:
She has recorded George Gershwin's "Summertime", Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" and The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter", and has collaborated with Dave Matthews and the Dave Matthews Band, Kelly Price, Branford Marsalis, Robbie Nevil, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Carlos Santana, John Legend, Herbie Hancock and Cassandra Wilson. Kidjo's hits include the songs "Agolo", "We We", "Adouma", "Wombo Lombo", "Afirika", "Batonga", as well as her version of "Malaika".
Kidjo is fluent in Fon, French, Yorùbá, and English and sings in all four languages; she also has her own personal language which includes words that serve as song titles such as "Batonga". Malaika is a song sung in Swahili language. She often utilizes Benin's traditional Zilin vocal technique and jazz vocalese.
Kidjo was born in Cotonou, Benin. Her father is from the Fon people of Ouidah and her mother from the Yoruba people. She grew up listening to Beninese traditional music, Miriam Makeba, James Brown, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, and Santana. By the time she was six, Kidjo was performing with her mother's theatre troupe, giving her an early appreciation for traditional music and dance. She started singing in her school band Les Sphinx and found success as a teenager with her adaptation of Miriam Makeba's "Les Trois Z" which played on national radio.
She recorded the album Pretty with the Cameroonian producer Ekambi Brilliant and her brother Oscar. It featured the songs Ninive, Gbe Agossi and a tribute to the singer Bella Bellow, one of her role models. The success of the album allowed her to tour all over West Africa. Continuing political conflicts in Benin prevented her from being an independent artist in her own country and led her to relocate to Paris in 1983.
While working various day jobs to pay for her tuition, Angélique studied music at the CIM, a reputable Jazz school in Paris where she met and married musician and producer Jean Hebrail with whom she has composed most of her music. She started out as a backup singer in local bands. In 1985, she became the frontsinger of the known Euro-African jazz/rock band Jasper van't Hof's Pili Pili.
Three Pili Pili studio albums followed: Jakko (1987) Be In Two Minds (1988, produced by Marlon Klein) and Hotel Babo (1990). By the end of the 1980s, she had become one of the most popular live performers in Paris and recorded a solo album called Parakou for the Open Jazz Label. She was then discovered in Paris by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell who signed her in 1991. She recorded four albums for Island until Chris Blackwell's departure from the label. In 2000 she was signed in New York by Columbia Records for which she recorded two albums.
She has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. With UNICEF, she has travelled to many countries in Africa. Reports on her visits can be found on the UNICEF site: Benin, Senegal, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Syria, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Haiti.
Kidjo founded The Batonga Foundation which gives girls a secondary school and higher education so they can take the lead in changing Africa. The foundation is doing this by granting scholarships, building secondary schools, increasing enrollment, improving teaching standards, providing school supplies, supporting mentor programs, exploring alternative education models and advocating for community awareness of the value of education for girls.
She has campaigned for Oxfam at the 2005 Hong Kong WTO meeting, for the their Fair Trade Campaign and travelled with them in North Kenya and at the border of Darfur and Chad with a group of women leaders in 2007 and participated to the video for the In My Name Campaign with Will I Am from The Black Eyed Peas
She has hosted the Mo Ibrahim Foundation's Prize for Achievement in African Leadership in Alexandria, Egypt on November 26, 2007 and on November 15, 2008, in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania on November 14, 2009 and in Mauritius Island on Nov 20th 2010.
More recently, since March 2009, Angélique Kidjo has been campaigning for "Africa for women's rights". This campaign was launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH),
On September 28, 2009, UNICEF and Pampers launched a campaign to eradicate Tetanus "Give The Gift Of Life" and asked Angélique to produce the song You Can Count On Me to support the campaign. Each download of the song will donate a vaccine to a mother or a mother to be.
Along with Jessica Biel and Peter Wentz, she is one of the LiveEarth Ambassadors for the 2010 Run For Water events
Angélique has recorded a video based on her song Agolo and on the images of Yann Arthus-Bertrand for the United Nations SEAL THE DEAL Campaign to prepare for the Copenhagen Climate Change summit.
The Commission of the African Union (AU) announced on July 16, 2010, the appointment of Angelique Kidjo as one of the 14 Peace Ambassadors to support the implementation of the 2010 Year of Peace and Security programme.
Angelique appears in the Sudan365: Keep the Promise video to support the peace process in Darfur.
She also supports the Zeitz Foundation, an organization focused on sustainable development and conservation.
In June 2010, she contributed the song "Leila" to the Enough Project and Downtown Records' Raise Hope for Congo compilation. Proceeds from the compilation fund efforts to make the protection and empowerment of Congo’s women a priority, as well as inspire individuals around the world to raise their voice for peace in Congo.