The Sheraton Pine Cliffs Hotel in Albufeira was the setting for a hugely enjoyable outdoor concert by African-born Angelique Kidjo last Saturday night, which was attended by more than 500 people. The evening was balmy with a cool breeze and, following an excellent three-course buffet, the audience revelled in Kidjo’s energetic performance, which ranged from soulful ballads to afro-funk. The enthusiastic crowd soon left their tables and surged forward to the stage to dance the night away.
Kidjo, 42, was raised in Benin but moved to Paris when she was 20 where she perfected her original musical style, which ranges from reggae, samba and salsa through to gospel, jazz and Zairian rumba. Kidjo has performed in Portugal before, having previously sung in Lisbon (at the recent Rock in Rio festival) and in Porto, but this was her first trip to the Algarve. Although very jetlagged, Kidjo agreed to speak to journalists and The Resident’s Gabriel Hershman found out more.
Angelique explained how much she likes Portuguese fado music: “I like it because it’s the type of song that expresses sadness and saudade (nostalgia or yearning). Music is a common memory that links with important moments from history. Slaves brought the blues to America, but music was also brought by Portuguese, Spanish and French colonialists to Africa. Music has no language or colour and it never lets you lie about your feelings,” she told me.
Kidjo says the inspiration for her music is humankind and life in general. “We all share the same values. What is important to all of us as human beings? We all need the same things: shelter, food, warmth and love. What divides us is less than what unites us – if you bleed then the colour of your blood is the same as mine. We desperately need more communication between one another and less suspicion of cultural or colour differences. I’ve seen my aunt die and your whole perspective on life changes when you experience something like that.”
The singer’s role as a goodwill ambassador to Unicef, the United Nations’ children’s agency, has opened her eyes to the suffering around her. “I have discovered how adults have failed to protect the children in the world. Children really need to be cared for. Whenever there is a war, it is always the women and children who pay the biggest price. When I became a mother (Kidko has now been married for 17 years), it changed me so much and that’s one of the reasons I accepted the role of goodwill ambassador. We have to work to save children from drugs and prostitution and understand that, for most children around the world, three square meals a day is a luxury.”
Although Kidjo says, “I don’t like to hurt people – either by words or actions”, she is an outspoken extrovert with strong views about politics, at one point exclaiming that, “Bush is a piece of crap and I would tell him to his face – I don’t care.” She says she treats everyone the same way, regardless of who they are, and maintains that fame has not changed her philosophy. She has been nominated for three Grammy awards this year, but it’s unlikely to send Angelique’s head spinning. “Being nominated at the Grammy awards is important, but contact with the public is more important. I’m not singing to win prizes, nice though they are. The biggest prize of all is when people come to you and shake your hand. When you go on stage, you leave all your worries behind you. I have never taken the public for granted and, each time I go on, I wonder how people will react to my emotions.”
Angelique says her music has led to some life-changing moments among her fans. “I had a letter from a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer who wrote ‘your music has given me the strength and hope to carry on’ and someone else wrote to say that she believed that her leukemia had been cured through my music. Then there was the poverty-stricken woman who wrote from New Mexico to say she had decided to commit suicide because her life was so unbearable. ‘I went to a party and from the moment I put on one of your CDs, I decided to fight on and find a job, but your music was my motor,’ she wrote in her letter.”
Kidjo seems to be going from strength to strength. Having sung alongside the likes of Gilberto Gil and Daniela Mercury, Kidjo has also acted with Al Pacino and Kim Basinger in last year’s film People I Know, in a supporting role. I think we can safely say we will be hearing a lot more from Angelique Kidjo in the future.