What's so good about Angelique Kidjo?

There are a lot of female vocalists out there. A lot. Each year we're inundated with submissions from female vocalists looking for gigs. So, it’s always a treat when a vocalist sticks out for all of the right reasons – and Angelique Kidjo falls firmly into that category.

When I’m listening to a submission from a vocalist, I’m listening for several things: the pieces being performed (standards or originals?); the arrangements on the album (what’s interesting musically?); the side musicians; and more…but it almost always starts with the voice. And if this is the voice that greeted you upon putting on a CD, I suspect you might take notice too. And, just to prove she's as good live - if not better - than in the studio, check out this live performance:

Angelique Kidjo is the complete package: an amazing voice, interesting music and interesting musical collaborations (guitarist and fellow Benin native Lionel Loueke accompanies her on the track above). The daughter of an actress, dancer and theatrical producer, Angelique was born in Quidah, a coastal city in the West African country of Benin. Inheriting her mother’s love of performing, she made her stage debut with her mother’s theatrical troupe; she was singing professionally by her twentieth birthday. The oppressive political environment of Benin led her to relocate to Paris in 1980 where her international career started to blossom, and since then she has performed with the biggest names in the jazz and pop worlds. She's been a Grammy Award nominee four times, and her album Djin Djin won the trophy in 2008.

When she chooses repertoire, Angelique is sure to always pay homage to her African roots, but her music is beyond definition. In a recent JazzTimes interview, Angelique said:

"I never questioned [mixing styles together]. I grew up listening to all kinds of music. When people want to play in Benin, they get the drums out, they set them up and they play. For me there’s no difference between that and listening to Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Miles Davis - the cradle of it is in Africa, so I never asked myself if I’m doing R&B, soul or blues. I don’t care."

Angelique’s TD Toronto Jazz Festival performance will feature music from her most recent release, Oyo, which is a fantastic mix of traditional songs from across the African continent, as well as the music which influenced her as a young musician, songs which embrace rhythm & blues, soul music and jazz: music by James Brown, Otis Redding, Carlos Santana and Curtis Mayfield. I had a blast listening to this album, not only for the diversity of the music, but for the guest artists: Dianne Reeves, John Legend, Roy Hargrove, and the Antibalas horn section. (And I’m not the only one – check out the CD and live performance reviews by the New York Times, the Sunday Times and the New York Post.) Here are some more tracks:

Baby, I Love You featuring Dianne Reeves
Move on Up featuring John Legend

And, from the Grammy-winning Djin Djin:

Ae Ae

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