Meet Angélique Kidjo

Msafiri finds out some of the inspirations behind the Grammy award-winning artist’s music and writing

HR-Angelique-Grammy-winSpirit rising: my life, my music is the new autobiography by Angélique Kidjo, the iconic Grammy award-winning artist and activist. Here she explains the important role her father played in her life growing up in Benin, and why her Grammy-winning album EVE is dedicated to all the women of Africa.

In 2014 your book Spirit rising: my life, my music was published by Harper Design. What motivated you to write your autobiography?
I have a passion for cooking and the initial idea was to write an African cookbook. The publisher suggested mixing recipes with stories about my life travelling from Benin to Paris to New York. But gradually the book turned into a memoir. It also had a healing effect on me as I lost my father in 2008. Telling the story of my life and showing how important he was in my success was liberating. I hope my story will inspire many girls in Africa to believe in their dreams.

In your book you talk about your journey to become a successful musician. If you can give one bit of advice to young Africans who want to pursue a career in music, what will it be?
Success is paved with many failures and disappointments! This is a truth not many want to hear, but you have to learn to cope with rejection and setbacks. Keep on moving, experimenting, meeting new people and collaborators, and don’t wait for someone to ‘discover’ you. It is easier now to record music but the challenge is that so many people are doing it so you have to find smart ways to share your music. Please keep in mind that your African roots are an advantage, not a handicap! Our traditional musical culture is so rich. You have to share it with the world.

Early this year you won a Grammy award for your album Eve that you dedicated to ‘the women of Africa’. Could you please tell us more about your passion for African girls’ education and your foundation Batonga?
I started singing at an early age and at one point I wanted to leave school. But my father didn’t give me a choice: if I wanted to keep on singing, I had to study. I was mad at the time but now I’m so glad: a great education allows you to be free and accomplish your goals because you are able to better understand the world. I just wish every girl in Africa had the same opportunities as me. The album Eve was inspired by the beauty and the resilience of African women. The whole idea behind the album started in a small village in the Samburu district of Kenya, where the women welcomed me with a beautiful song. It inspired me to
make this tribute.

Your new CD Angélique Kidjo sings with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg was released at the end of March 2015. Why did you decide to produce it in collaboration with the Orchestre?
I am an adventurous spirit! I need to explore all kinds of music. The concert with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg was such a great event I wanted to share it with the public. The strings can carry your voice in a way that no other instrument can. I felt like flying!