Time magazine refers to her as Africa’s premier diva. Her name is Angelique Kidjo, a Benin-born, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter who headlines Vancouver Island MusicFest Friday, July 11. Her latest album, Eve, debuted at number one on Billboard’s world chart. Her 2008 recording, Djin Djin, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album.
Angelique engaged in a question and answer with the Record:
Q: Will this be your first visit to Vancouver Island?
Yes! I have been to Vancouver many times, but never to Vancouver Island.
Q: How is your tour going? Are you finishing a North American tour here, then departing to Europe?
It is more crazy than that. I am in the middle of an American tour on the West Coast, then I’m going to the Lugano Jazz Festival in Switzerland to sing with a symphonic orchestra, then going back to Vancouver Island just for you before singing at the Istanbul Jazz Festival.
Q: Looks like you have enjoyed many career highlights. No doubt winning a Grammy was one of them. What does Djin Djin mean?
Djin Djin is the sound of the bell that announces a new day for Africa. The Bell has started to ring. It is not very loud yet but I can hear it: Africa is changing a lot. We still have many obstacles but we’re on the way.
Q: I understand you collaborate with women’s choirs from Kenya and Benin, who sing in an array of native Beninese languages on Eve. How many languages do you speak?
I speak Fon, Mina Yoruba and Goun from Benin, French as Benin is a francophone country, English then a bit of Portuguese. And German I learned at school.
Q: I also understand a pair of trips inspired the album: 2007 in Chad and 2012 in Kenya, if I have this correct. Could you expand on these experiences and how they inspired the ‘expressions of female empowerment’ on Eve?
I have travelled the whole continent of Africa with UNICEF and I found that women are the true backbone. They carry the countries on their shoulders. In Chad I witnessed the trauma that women suffered but they told me: we don’t want to be perceived as victims but as women looking forward to a future in which we can take care of our children. In Kenya I was on a UNICEF visit when the women welcomed me with a song. Their song was so powerful I recorded it and asked them if I could use it, and it gave me the idea to travel all over Benin to record the traditional voices of women in many villages.
Q: I see one of the tracks, Bana, features your mother Yvonne, after whom the album is named. Is your mother also a singer/songwriter?
No, she is not. She had a theatre company and she always loved music and acting, and she can sing too, but she never made it into a career. She gave me the love of the stage when at age six I filled in for one of her young actors.
Q:Where is home these days? Are you based out of New York?
If I’m honest I should say that home is airports and hotel rooms!
Other performers on the Friday lineup include Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings with Carlos Reyes, Sam Baker, Royal Southern Brotherhood and the sensational Korean drum group Dulsori.
For the entire Friday schedule, go to www.islandmusicfest.com, where you can also buy your tickets, for $81, plus applicable taxes and fees.