Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Inspiration: Angelique Kidjo

One of my favorite places to be is in a library. Years before I had my daughter, I went to my little local branch. They offer CD's as well as books, and one caught my eye. It showed a vibrant picture of an African singer. The list of songs on the back showed titles like Agolo, Batonga, and Malaika.




For some reason, I took out the CD and brought it home. As soon as I put it in my player, I was blown away by an amazing kaleidescope of rhythms and melody, all sung in Benin, the language of Quidah, the city in West Africa where Kidjo was born. The songs were catchy and filled with incredible energy and artistry.


I listened to the CD and returned it to the library. My next stop was the music store, where I bought my own copy. A few years later I went to one of her concerts in Princeton, where she played to an extremely enthusiastic crowd: a tiny dynamo, insisting that everyone in attendance stand up and dance, and inviting the audience up on stage to "Give me some hug."


I've listened to Agolo so many times that I can sing it in Benin. Her songs, in fact, were the inspiration for my Night Watchman trilogy. I used her words as a basis for the language of Lampala, my fictional island country in the second book of the trilogy. Angelique herself inspired Mana, my beautiful governess from the islands, who is mysterious and strong and a bit magical.


I must add here how courageous Kidjo has been to sing at all. Being a singer was seen as a not very respectable thing in her country; when she clashed with the communist regime there she had to flee to Paris.  While in France, Kidjo was unable to speak to her parents on the phone for fear of putting them in danger. 


"Today she is wildly popular – gathering Grammy awards, A-list collaborators such as Alicia Keys, and playing at events including Nobel peace prize ceremonies – but she still pens political songs, is a UN goodwill ambassador, supports groups such as Oxfam, and Unicef and has a foundation to improve access to education for African girls." (from http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/mar/08/angelique-kidjo-100-women)


Still wonder why I'm so fascinated by her and her music? Just look at this smile: 






If you haven't heard of Angelique before, take a minute to listen to her song, Adouma:



4 comments:

Johanna said...

She is beautiful inside and out which is what makes her music so incredible. And you, quite the trendsetter finding Angelique Kidjo before she was on the popular media radar!!

Alison said...

Indeed she is. And it was a lucky accident, Johanna - no trend setting here!

Christine Murray said...

She sounds like such a brave and inspirational person. Thanks for sharing! :)

Kara said...

Wonderfully interesting, Alison! It is fascinating to read the background behind your stories. :)