Five-time Grammy Award winner Angélique Kidjo has released 16 albums since she first started singing at 6 years old. After first performing virtually for Chautauqua as part of CHQ Assembly in 2020, now she will share her musical prowess in person at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.
“My father said I started singing before I started talking because I grew up surrounded by music,” Kidjo said.
Kidjo considers her performances to be a community engagement, and she never takes her audience for granted.
“My concert is not just with me on stage singing or playing music — it’s with the public,” she said.
Originally from Bénin, Kidjo’s musical journey has spanned several borders. She moved from Bénin to Paris in the 1980s due to political conflict.
“When I left my country, I was able to catch up with the music that had been banned for more than 10 years under the dictatorship, which banned every type of music,” Kidjo said. “It was through the traditional music of my ancestors that I was able to open myself to different types of music.”
Her music has West African elements alongside European, Latin American and American influences.
Her 15th and most recent album, 2021’s Mother Nature, features collaborations with several young African producers and singers. Prior to that, in 2019, she released Celia, a tribute album to “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz. In 2018, she worked with producer Jeff Bhasker on Remain in Light, a track-by-track reimagining of the smash 1980 album by the Talking Heads.
“No (type of) music has been impossible for me to do because I always find my roots in it,” she said.
Kidjo considers Africa to be the cradle of humanity and believes all people, no matter their skin color, are born from that continent.
“That’s why I say all music comes from Africa because it is in our DNA,” she said. “Music has no color, has no discrimination. It is in our DNA — wherever we go on this planet, whichever instrument we play or sing — Africa is at the center of it.”
Kidjo originally planned to study human rights law, but she ended up studying music. Now, she balances both activism and artistry as a musician focused on advocacy.
As a UNICEF and OXFAM Goodwill Ambassador, Kidjo travels the world to champion human rights. She also founded Batonga, a charitable foundation dedicated to supporting the education of young girls in Africa. She will discuss her advocacy work during her morning lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amp.
In May, she accepted the Polar Music Prize in Sweden. Considered the “Nobel Prize of Music,” the award recognizes “significant achievements in music,” with past recipients including Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Miriam Makeba, Gilberto Gil and Yo-Yo Ma.
“Music is a powerful tool because it doesn’t have a master. Music is about freedom,” Kidjo said. “Music is in the home of every single human being on the planet. Leaders come and go, but music stays.”
Daily staffer Kaitlyn Finchler contributed to this report.