Angélique Kidjo has been deemed “Africa’s premier diva” by Time Magazine, and the moniker speaks accurately to the singular career and life she has forged: Like Miriam Makeba was before her, Kidjo is the continent’s most internationally celebrated female musical exponent. And yet, the GRAMMY-winning artist has lived outside Africa for more than two decades. She currently resides in New York City, where she is an exceptionally active member of the music scene, and she reaches people around the world with her recordings, tours and philanthropic work. On her new album, Kidjo revisits the music that was instrumental in her artistic formation in Benin, the country whose communist dictatorship she fled in the early ‘80s. Razor & Tie will release the disc, entitled Oyo, on February 9, 2010.
Although Oyo is primarily comprised of covers, the music is instantly recognizable as Kidjo’s: The first thing one hears at the outset of the album is her breathtaking voice, long-sustaining the first word of “Zelie,” a song written by Bella Bellow from Togo. There are various other African songs, including “Lakutshn Llanga,” a lullaby made famous by Kidjo’s hero, Miriam Makeba, and the Beninese traditional song “Atcha Houn.” Many tracks reveal the prevalence of American soul and funk in the port city of Cotonou, where Kidjo grew up: She duets with John Legend and is joined by the horns of Antibalas on Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” offers Yoruban interpretations of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” and Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti,” collaborates with Diane Reeves on the Aretha Franklin hit, “Baby I Love You,” and also takes on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat.” Other highlights include the Sidney Bechet tune “Petite Fleur,” a favorite of Kidjo’s father, who passed away last year, and “Dil Main Chuppa Ke Pyar Ka,” the theme song of a Bollywood film they saw together some ten times.
Recorded and mixed by Russell Elevado (D’Angelo, The Roots, Erykah Badu) and produced by Kidjo and longtime collaborator Jean Hebrail, Oyo features a band of highly accomplished musicians, including another Benin-born, New York-based artist, the guitarist Lionel Loueke, as well as Christian McBride on upright bass, Kendrick Scott on drums and Thiokho Diagne on percussion. The trumpeter Roy Hargove makes a memorable appearance on “Samba Pa Ti.”
Oyo comes on the heels of Kidjo’s Djin Djin, which featured performances by a roster of eminent artists who admire her: Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel, Joss Stone, Branford Marsalis, Carlos Santana, Ziggy Marley and Amadou & Mariam, to name just a few.
In advance of the new album’s release, Kidjo will perform December 4 in Cape Town, South Africa at the Final Draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. She will headline concerts around the world this spring.
Constantly recording and touring, Kidjo is equally engaged in advocacy and activism, from UNICEF (for whom she is a Goodwill Ambassador) to her own Batonga Foundation, which provides educational aid to young African girls. In September 2009, she joined forces with UNICEF in a campaign to eliminate tetanus. A portion of proceeds for downloads of the song, “You Can Count On Me,” will provide tetanus vaccines to pregnant women and mothers. Another haunting song, “Agbalagba,” was originally penned for and offered as a free download with the New York Times best-selling book Say You’re One Of Them by African writer Uwem Akpan. The book, recently featured in Oprah Winfrey’s book club, consists of five stories, each written from the point of view of a child in Africa.
Oyo Track Listing:
2. Samba Pa Ti (feat. Roy Hargrove)
3. Move On Up (feat. John Legend)
4. Lakutshona Llanga
5. I’ve Got Dreams To Remember
7. Baby, I Love You (feat. Dianne Reeves)
8. Dil Main Chuppa Ke Pyar Ka
9. Petite Fleur
11. Cold Sweat
12. Out Of Africa
14. Atcha Houn
15. You Can Count On Me (Bonus Track)
16. Agbalagba (Bonus Track)