By Funmilola Olukomaiya
Four-time Grammy Award winner Angélique Kidjo is one of the greatest artists in international music today, a creative force with about thirteen albums to her name.
Angélique is the recipient of the prestigious 2015 Crystal Award given by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and the 2016 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award.
She has performed with several international orchestras and symphonies including the Bruckner Orchestra, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Philharmonie de Paris. Her rousing live show was recently captured at the revered Austin City Limits and made its television debut in January 2016.
Time Magazine has called her “Africa’s premier diva”. The BBC has included her in its list of the continent’s 50 most iconic figures, and in 2011 The Guardian listed her as one of their Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World. Forbes Magazine has ranked Angelique as the first woman in its list of the Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa.
Born July 14, 1960, the Beninese singer-songwriter, actress, and activist who is noted for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos was born in Ouidah, Benin. Her father is from the Fon people of Ouidah and her mother from the Yoruba people.
She grew up listening to Beninese traditional music, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, James Brown, Manu Dibango, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Osibisa, and Santana.
By the time she was six, Kidjo was performing with her mother’s theatre troupe, giving her an early appreciation for traditional music and dance. She started singing in her school band, Les Sphinx and found success as a teenager with her adaptation of Miriam Makeba’s “Les Trois Z”, which played on national radio.
Continuing political conflicts in Benin prevented her from being an independent artist in her own country and led her to relocate to Paris in 1983.
While working various day jobs to pay for her tuition, Kidjo studied music at the CIM, a reputable jazz school in Paris where she met French musician and producer Jean Hébrail, with whom she has composed most of her music and whom she married in 1987. Their daughter, Naima was born 1993 in France.
Below are 25 amazing things you probably didn’t know about awarding winning and multi-talented 4-time Grammy Winner and African legend, Angélique Kidjo.
1. Kidjo has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002 and with UNICEF, she has travelled to many countries in Africa.
2. She received the Ambassador Of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in 2016.
3. She is included in the exhibits at the National Museum of African American History that opened on Sept. 24, 2016, on the National Mall.
4. Since March 2009, Kidjo has been campaigning for “Africa for women’s rights”, a campaign launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
5. On September 28, 2009, UNICEF and Pampers launched a campaign to eradicate Tetanus “Give the Gift of Life” and asked Kidjo to produce the song “You Can Count On Me” to support the campaign. Each download of the song donates a vaccine to a mother or a mother-to-be.
6. The Commission of the African Union (AU) announced on July 16, 2010, the appointment of Angélique Kidjo as one of 14 Peace Ambassadors to support the implementation of the 2010 Year of Peace and Security programme.
7. On June 6, 2013, Kidjo was elected vice-president of the Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d´Auteurs et Compositeurs (CISAC). She now resides in New York City, where she is an occasional contributor to The New York Times.
8. Kidjo has received Honorary Doctorates from Yale University, Berklee College of Music and Middlebury College.
9. On February 18, 2013, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Kidjo was the host of a night of celebration for the cultural heritage of Mali.
10. Kidjo is listed among the “2014 Most Influential Africans” by New African magazine and Jeune Afrique.
11. Kidjo is a contributor to the Art Of Saving A Life Campaign initiated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
12. The Daily Telegraph in London described her as “The undisputed queen of African music” during the 2012 Olympic Games River of Music Festival.
13. Her star-studded album DJIN DJIN won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Album in 2008, and her album OYO was nominated for the same award in 2011.
14. In 2002, she performed in Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize Concert honouring President Jimmy Carter.
15. In November 2003, she sang with Peter Gabriel and Youssou N’Dour at the Cape Town 46664 concert for Nelson Mandela’s Foundation.
16. Kidjo was also a judge for the 7th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers.
17. Kidjo performed at the 75th Birthday Celebration of Quincy Jones at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 2008.
18. She appeared on the “Price of Silence” video produced by Amnesty International to celebrate the 60 years of the Declaration of Human Rights.
19. Kidjo made her Sydney Opera House debut in Australia on April 12, 2009.
20. On October 23, 2009, she sang at the United Nations General Assembly for the UN Day Concert, A Tribute to Peacekeeping with Nile Rodgers, John McLaughlin and Lang Lang.
21. On December 4, 2009, in Cape Town, South Africa, she performed her song “Agolo” at the Final Draw of the Fifa World Cup 2010.
22. In January 2014, her first book, a memoir titled Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music (Harper Collins) and her twelfth album, EVE (Savoy/429 Records), were released to critical acclaim. EVE later went on to win the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album in 2015, and her historic, orchestral album Sings with the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg (Savoy/429 Records) won a Grammy for Best World Music Album in 2016.
23. Her collaboration with Philip Glass, IFÉ: Three Yorùbá Songs, made its US debut to a sold-out concert with the San Francisco Symphony in June 2015.
24. Angélique Kidjo is the 4th laureate of the Antonio Carlos Jobim Award (2007). Created in 2004 on the 25th anniversary of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, each year the award is given to an artist distinguished in the field of world music whose influence on the evolution of jazz and cultural crossover is widely recognized.
25. On July 10, 2016, Kidjo created the premiere of her “African Women All-Stars” concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival with special guests Aṣa, Dobet Gnaore, Lura and the Trio Teriba from Benin.