Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, known as Angélique Kidjo, born July 14, 1960, is a Beninese singer-songwriter, actress, and activist who is noted for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos. In 2007, Time magazine called her “Africa’s premier diva”.
ANGELIQUE KIDJO: BACKGROUND
Kidjo was born into a family of performing artists. Her father was a musician, and her mother worked as a choreographer and theatre director. At age six Kidjo began performing in her mother’s theatre troupe, and, as a teenager, she sang with her brothers in their rock–rhythm-and-blues band. By age 20 she was a professional singer. She recorded her first album, Pretty, in 1988.
After several years Kidjo left Pili-Pili and recorded Logozo (1991), which featured the American jazz musician Branford Marsalis and the African artists Manu Dibango and Ray Lema.
With songs addressing issues of global concern—such as homelessness, the environment, freedom, and integration—Logozo was an international success. Kidjo increased her international appeal through her later releases, including Fifa (1995), in which she and more than 100 other musicians performed songs in English, Fon (her native language), Yoruba, and French.
As a performer, her striking voice, stage presence and fluency in multiple cultures and languages have won respect from her peers and expanded her following across national borders.
Kidjo has cross-pollinated the West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk and jazz, as well as influences from Europe and Latin America.
Kidjo is fluent in five languages: Fon, French, Yorùbá, Gen (Mina), and English. She sings in all of them, and she also has her own personal language, which includes words that serve as song titles such as “Batonga”. “Malaika” is a song sung in the Swahili language.
Angelique Kidjo’s music has transcended the African scene and has seen her receive international recognition and renown, placing her high up the ranks of international music and culture icons.
She has performed with several international orchestras and symphonies including the Bruckner Orchestra, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Philharmonie de Paris.
In addition to her international music collaborations, she has also won many awards most notably the Kora Awards, the MOBO (UK) Awards, the BET Awards and the GRAMMYs, of which she is a four-time winner.
ANGELIQUE KIDJO: ACTIVISM & ADVOCACY
Angelique Kidjo 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.
Since March 2009, 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” Angelique Kidjo produce d the song “You Can Count On Me” to support the campaign. Each download of the song donates a vaccine to a mother or a mother-to-be.
Angelique Kidjo 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.
On July 16, 2010, the Commission of the African Union (AU) announced the appointment of Angélique Kidjo as one of 14 Peace Ambassadors to support the implementation of the 2010 Year of Peace and Security program.
In September 2012, Kidjo was featured in a campaign called “30 Songs/30 Days” to support Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a multi-platform media project inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book.
On May 22, 2014, Kidjo met with First lady Michelle Obama to discuss international girls’ education, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House.
On September 21, 2014, Kidjo was one of the endorsees of the People’s Climate March. She joined the march in New York, along with Mary Robinson.
In 2015 she signed an open letter which the ONE Campaign had been collecting signatures for; the letter was addressed to Angela Merkel and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, urging them to focus on women as they serve as the head of the G7 in Germany and the AU in South Africa respectively, which will start to set the priorities in development funding before a main UN summit in September 2015 that will establish new development goals for the generation.
Kidjo is also a contributor to the Art Of Saving A Life Campaign initiated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In 2006, Kidjo founded the Batonga Foundation, alongside Mary Louise Cohen, with the goal of empowering and educating adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa. Batonga’s goal is to go “beyond the paved road” by targeting the most excluded girls and equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to live healthy, financially independent lives.
Batonga’s data-driven approach allows them to target the hardest-to-reach girls, recruit them to the Girls Clubs, provide them a safe space to learn, convene, connect, and improve their livelihoods.
In this, Batonga remains true to its core mission— to shine a light on the most overlooked girls in Francophone West Africa and empower them to be agents of change in their communities and their own lives.
Kidjo is undoubtedly a legend not only in Africa, but the world over. Her music, activism and other humanitarian contributions to the world around her, have made her an icon and a legend, whose legacy will remain even long after she has left.
It is for this reason that we celebrate now and always, the legend that Angelique Kidjo is.
By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi
Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.