the InkWell

Feature Interview:


MUSIC INTERVIEW with Angelique Kidjo
© David Elliott, March 2002


Angelique Kidjo released her seventh album, (her first on Columbia Records), titled BLACK IVORY SOUL. She wrote and co-wrote much of the material, which features a mix of Brazilian and African Music, produced by the legendary Bill Laswell. Angelique (born in Benin) covers her African roots, singing in Yoruba and Fon, and also in French and English. Over the past few years Angelique has performed duets with Dave Matthews. On BLACK IVORY SOUL she sings Iwoya—an upbeat song she first sang with him. BLACK IVORY SOUL is a celebration of the human spirit. Angelique is a humanitarian at the very core of her being. With its beautiful harmonies and simmering rhythms, she exhibits a smooth blending of international proportions that transcends boundaries. This is a truly unique and original work of art.

David: I’ve heard your new album, and it really struck me with the multi-cultural influences and the great love that you’ve put into it.
Angelique: You just said everything right. It’s exactly how it is. It’s an album of love, reconciliation, more understanding and joy among human beings. Music has always been part of my life. Music helps me to be better all the time and to heal even when I’m in pain. And music started healing the pain of slavery in our history, and gave me the wisdom also to understand that in order to avoid that happening in the future, it’s all in our hands. It belongs to us to do the work of understanding, of communication and loving each other. So I understand that with music that’s what I try to transcend, to get through my music all the time. So I’m happy you like it.
David: Do you feel that you are giving the world African culture and music or just music?
Angelique: Both. Both go together because music that exists in the world would not exist without the African Continent, because it started with slavery when they brought the slaves out of Africa. Those women and men, who could have built up our continent economically and culturally, they took away from their homeland and brought them to America, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and the Islands of the Caribbean. The influence of slavery is in the music that you guys listen to today…the Pop music… the R&B, Hip Hop and the Blues… So for me I’m just continuing that work of memory, that work of hope, and love and acceptance, of situations that we can’t change— but we can move on, we can take it in a positive way, or just get stuck in the past ... So that’s what I’m doing basically. What allowed me to do that is the traditional musicians of my country that always told me you can be tolerant with your music. Music has to deal with love, generosity and better understanding of yourself in order to understand other people.
David: Will you be writing any more material with your brother, Oscar?
Angelique: Why not? Anything is possible… When I go back from time to time we sit down and talk about music, we talk about the technical part of it because he’s much more like a producer now, than a singer songwriter, but he still continues writing songs. We work with other people, but I wish I spent more time with him. Everytime he comes to N.Y. or comes to France we do something together. There’s a lot of material that we started that we never finished…that may come out someday.
David: Has Oscar’s musical taste influenced you as well?
Angelique: Definitely. He was the one that brought me Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and James Brown. My brothers and sisters are older than me. It was in the 70’s and I was young — wasn’t a teenager at all. I lived with them, I lived their youth, their music, I lived their passion. I was lucky I had brothers that wanted to do music and that were able. Because of their education we seemed to be open to different types of music. They brought me the Beatles, The Rolling Stones…
David: I understand your mother is an actress and a dancer?
Angelique: Yes. She’s a choreographer. She put up the first theater group in Benin.
David: It’s my understanding that women have a much harder time being an artist there.
Angelique: Definitely. But my mother came from a mixed family already. My grandfather has Portuguese blood, and the mother of my mother is from Nigeria. She was born in what was called Congo, which is Zaire now. She went to the nun’s school there and learned how to play clarinet, dance and sing and do great embroideries. She had a Catholic education to be a home wife [and a] well educated person. My father also had been to school. The very unusual thing is that both of my parents were single kids, which is very rare in Africa. So both of them have had the opportunity to have education. And to travel when they were young. So that gave them the liberal mind in which they raised us.
David: How many kids did they have?
Angelique: Nine.
David: When I first listened to this really beautiful album that you produced I heard the influence of Nina Simone. Do you know her work?
Angelique: Yes. People keep telling me that. I love Nina Simone She’s a great piano player… a great artist and she is really genuine. I love her work. She has been through some very hard times and it’s not easy for somebody who is so talented to be born and go to where the matter of color of skin makes every thing more difficult.
David: Hopefully in the future we won‘t have those problems.
Angelique: I hope so. I really hope so, because America is a garden full of really great, great talent.
David: You’re going to come out to visit us on the west coast and perform at the Roxy on the 26t of March, right?
Angelique: Yes. Indeed.
David: What kind of a show will you be singing and performing?
Angelique: You’ll see. Well, I’m not going to tell you or there’s going to be no surprise anymore! Then you’re gonna be so excited, [you’ll say] “O.K, She doesn’t want to tell me anything? I’m gonna go check it out for myself!!”
David: That’s a wonderful attitude! You know, when I heard this record I thought, “It’s a little bit of Nina Simone, a little bit of Sade, and a lot of Carlos Santana”.
Angelique: Oh, definitely. Carlos is my guy! Somebody told me it remind him of John Lennon also. And this is a good attitude because of the humanitarian sense of mine. You’re talking about people that I love, so if I’m getting close to their talent, then I’m sure I’m going the right way.

After reading the article on Angelique Kudjo, Marianne Ruuth wrote:

"It's a wonderful interview. Thanks for sharing it with me.

Love, Marianne"

In Memoriam:

- Marianne Ruuth, an active member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for 49 years, passed on June 2, 2007. Much loved by all who knew her, she will be sorely missed.


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