Biography: Angélique Kidjo

angelique kidjo

Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, professionally known as Angélique Kidjo  is a Beninese-born American Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter and activist, noted for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos.

Kidjo was born in Cotonou, Benin on July 14, 1960. Her father is from the Fon people of Ouidah and her mother from the Yoruba people. She grew up listening to Beninese traditional music, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, James Brown, Manu Dibango, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Osibisa, 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.

Angelique Kidjo

While working various day jobs to pay for her tuition, Kidjo studied music at the CIM, a reputable jazz school in Paris where she met 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 front singer 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 Blackwell’s departure from the label.

In 2000 she was signed in New York by Columbia Records, for which label she recorded two albums. Her albums include:

Logozo, released worldwide in 1991 and reached number one on the Billboard World Music chart. It includes the singles “We We” and “Batonga“;

Ayé (1994), which includes the single “Agolo“, which gave Kidjo her first Grammy nomination;

Fifa (1996), which includes the hit “Wombo Lombo“;

Trilogy, a trilogy of albums which she started In 1998 (Oremi, Black Ivory Soul and Oyaya) exploring the African roots of the music of the Americas;

Djin Djin, released on May 1, 2007. Many guests appear on the album including Josh Groban, Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys, Joss Stone, Peter Gabriel, Amadou and Mariam, Ziggy Marley and Branford Marsalis. The title refers to the sound of a bell in Africa that greets each new day. The album, produced by Tony Visconti, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music album and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding World Music album;

Spirit Rising (2012) and

Eve (2014).

The BBC has included Kidjo in its list of the African continent’s 50 most iconic figures. The Daily Telegraph in London described her as “The undisputed queen of African music” during the 2012 Olympic Games River of Music Festival.

In March 2013, NPR, National Public Radio in America, called her “Africa’s greatest living diva”. Kidjo is listed among the “2014 Most Influential Africans” by New African magazine and Jeune Afrique. Forbes Afrique put Kidjo on the cover of their “100 most influential women” issue in 2015.

On June 6, 2013, Kidjo was elected vice-president of the Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d´Auteurs et Compositeurs (CISAC). She now resides in New York City, where she is an occasional contributor to the New York Times.

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