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Visionaries - April 5, 2022

10 Amazing Facts About 5-Time Grammy Award Winner, Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo, is a five-time Grammy Award-winner with millions of dollars to her name. She is a Beninese-American singer, songwriter, actress and activist. 

She was born in Ouidah, Benin, on July 14, 1960. She is known for her eclectic musical inspirations and imaginative music videos. 

Angélique Kidjo, is one of the most influential musicians today, with over thirteen albums to her credit.  

Time magazine dubbed her “Africa’s premier diva”, and she’s become noted for her innovative music videos. She was also dubbed the “Queen of African Fusion”. 

Growing up, Kidjo was surrounded by traditional Beninese music, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, James Brown, Manu Dibango, Otis Rodding, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Osibisa, and Santana.

Kidjo began performing with her mother’s theatre group when she was six, giving her an early passion for traditional music and dance. 

She began singing in her high school band, Los Sphinx. She rose to fame as a teenager after a nationwide radio broadcast of her interpretation of Miriam Makeba’s “Les Trois.”

Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Angelique Kidjo.

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1. She’s Got Ancestral ties to Nigeria

Angélique Kidjo’s father is of the Ouidah Fon tribe, and her mother is Yoruba. Her full Name is Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo.

She was born in Ouidah, Benin, to Franck Kidjo, a government employee, and his choreographer wife Yvonne, on July 14, 1960. 

Benin is a narrow sliver of territory that slams into Nigeria from the west and appears to spear the Atlantic straight down from Africa. Ouidah is located on the seaside.

2. She decided to leave Benin due to political unrest

Angelique grew up dancing, singing, and listening to traditional Beninese music, Nigerian pop, and her brothers’ James Brown-inspired rock band. 

She was encouraged by her banjo-playing father and artistically inclined mother. 

However, in the early 1980s, a new leftist dictatorship came to power in the country and forced her to sing political anthems. She made her way to Paris.

3. She went to Paris to study law

She worked numerous day jobs to pay for law school and intended to work in the field of human rights. 

She also went to the Centre d’Informations Musicales (CIM), a well-known jazz school, where she met her future husband, musician Jean Hebrail. 

Rather than continuing her studies, she decided to “attempt to touch underprivileged people with her music.”

4. Pili Pili was the starting point for a career in music

After doing some backup vocal work in her 20s, she joined the European jazz-funk-African pop fusion band Pili Pili in 1985, and her life was forever changed. 

The trio, led by pianist Jasper van’t Hof, was a hit in Paris, quickly becoming one of the city’s most popular acts. Kidjo’s lead vocals were featured prominently on three albums.

5. Her self-employed career

Her first solo album, “Parakou” in 1989, which she produced with her own band, drew Island Records producer Chris Blackwell, one of the industry’s most powerful figures. 

Her second album, “Logozo,” was released in 1991 under the Mango label, and her fan base exploded. 

She frequently wore denim pants and large earrings. She also buzzed her hair to frenetic dance-centric shows. Angelique became a celebrity.

6. She sings and speaks in eight different languages

Her first language is Fon, which is spoken by many people in her nation. She also sings in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, and a few other languages. 

“Fifa,” her ambitious CD, featured recordings of small-town Benin musicians, as well as a few English-language songs. 

“I make songs that I enjoy, I’m not sure if it’ll be English, French, or an African dialect. It’s all about communication with music.”

7. She is a traditional voodoo practitioner

Kidjo was brought up as a Catholic, but she learned that voodoo shared some of her ideals and tenets.

All religions, she says, are attempting to unravel the secrets of the elements and humanity’s place amid them.

“We have a different God in voodooism–we live with the wind, the sea, the sun — we live with nature.”

8. She’s worked with a slew of other music icons

In some of her albums, she featured music icons. Her 2007 album “Djin Djin” featured performances from Josh Groban, Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel, and Ziggy Marley. 

In the summer of 2001, Kidjo performed with the Dave Matthews Band, and after the success of his smash single “Supernatural”. 

Santana invited Angelique to join him on the road. On his 2002 album, “Shaman,” he recorded her song “Adouma” from her “Aya” album.

9. She has penned a memoir

“Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music,” her autobiography co-written with Rachel Wenwrick, was published by Harper Collins on January 7, 2014. 

Alicia Keys wrote the foreword, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote the preface.

“The only thing bigger than Angelique Kidjo’s voice is her heart,” President Bill Clinton, a friend of Kidjo’s, said on the jacket cover.

10. She is an activist 

She founded the Batonga Foundation to assist in education for young African girls. This is in addition to being a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. 

She uses her platform to speak out against Darfur’s bloodshed and poverty and AIDS. She is also an advocate for worldwide women’s rights and advocates for Oxfam, an international confederation of groups seeking to discover solutions to poverty and injustice.

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