It’s easy to understand why Angelique Kidjo was once dubbed “Africa’s premier diva.”
Backed by a soulful band and dazzling lights, the international music sensation and her powerful voice poured her heart out to a full house during a solid 100-minute performance at the Strathmore Theatre in Rockville, Maryland, on Sept. 9.
Wrapping her humanitarian messages in African rhythms and modern drums with eccentric tunes, the three-time Grammy winner enthralled the audience with ballads of better African education, female equality and an overall appreciation for Africa.
Though most of Kidjo’s songs are not written in English — she comes from the country of Benin, located in West Africa — she had no trouble illustrating the meaning of her words through brief, vivid stories before each performance, matching them with lyrical power and purpose.
“When I was growing up I listened to music with my brothers who had their own band,” she recalled in one story. “During that time, girls were not in bands because it was a ‘male’ thing.
“But one day, the album of Aretha Franklin came out and I was like ‘wow,’ and all of my brothers and their friends were flabbergasted by the way she sang,” Kidjo said. “And I started listening to her all the time,and I then started thinking that there may something in this for me, too.”
As she stood on stage, she also shared a selection of beats from ancient African rhythms that she said can be found in every form of music today.
“This pattern came from Africa with the slaves all around in America, in the Caribbean, in Brazil, everywhere, and pretty much is the bedrock of all music,” she said. “You put it in rock ‘n’ roll, it works. You put it in blues, it works. You want to make it funky, it works.”
The audience sang and danced through every song, particularly the iconic “Africa,” which she also performed last year at the opening ceremony of the United Nations’ development agenda summit, with her acting as the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
During the performance at Strathmore, before Kidjo could sing her first note, adorning fans were singing along with the African drums that led Kidjo into a dance celebration, joining members in the crowd to sing as other native Benin citizens waved country flags over balconies and followed Kidjo back onto stage to partake in African dance steps.