One of Africa’s most influential singers Angelique Kidjo has just released a new album of fascinating collaborations with a generation of artists from around the continent and its diaspora.
“Mother Nature” released on June 18 features the powerful voice from Benin recording songs with some of the biggest Afrobeats stars and artists from other parts of the world.
The album is a bridge between generations, but also a connection between musical styles incorporating African rhythms and percussions with electronic sounds, Afrobeats, hip-hop, R&B, and dancehall.
Such diversity is in keeping with the dynamism that has been the hallmark of Angelique Kidjo's career in the three decades since she became an international star with a string of albums in the 1990s: “Logozo” “Aye” “Fifa” and “Oremi.” She won her fourth Grammy Award in 2020 for her acclaimed album “Celia” which pays homage to the late Cuban Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz.
Her music has been a fusion of her West African traditions with elements of American R&B, funk and jazz and pop influences from Europe and Latin America.
She has performed high-energy concerts before thousands of fans, also embraced the classical music repertoire by joining several orchestras and symphonies in concert.
The pandemic has meant that Angelique retreated to the studio to complete this long-awaited album of new songs. This is her first album of original music in seven years and the singer who has used her Batonga Foundation to champion humanitarian causes like girls’ education, tackles topics including the impact of climate change in Africa to racial inequality on the new songs.
She began writing the music in 2019 and the album was recorded at her home in Paris over the past year in quarantine.
The 13 songs are a diverse collection of global sounds, tapping into traditional rhythms and giving them a contemporary edge, with cutting edge Afrobeats, Afropop and Electronic Dance Music.
The first single released from the album is a collaboration with Nigerian singer Yemi Alade on a song called “Dignity”, which is a direct response to the uprising against the police brutality of Nigeria’s notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
This song marks the second time the two African giants are working together after the success of “Shekere” on Alade's last album.
Three generations of African musicians are represented in the song “Africa, One of a Kind” which borrows the verse of Salif Keita’s classic “Africa” performed by the great Malian himself, and the young Nigerian Afrobeats star Mr. Eazi.
According to Angelique, the sound and groove are inspired by Afrobeats but the song takes its roots in the great African tradition of songwriting. That is why it was important to have Salif Keita singing his signature melody in the intro to the song.
The video that was filmed in Benin and Mali features a dance called Gogbahoun, which originates from Angelique’s home village.
Angelique draws on the talents of this year's Grammy Award winner, Nigerian global star, Burna Boy for the song “Do Yourself” an ode to African self-empowerment and self-determination.
"Free and Equal" directly plays off the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a call to action to the entire black diaspora. The guest rapper on the track is the Zambian-born, Australian-based artist Sampa the Great.
Kidjo brings together a crop of young artists from her native Benin, Zeynab, Lionel Loueke on the sweet guitar melody "Omon Oba".
The revolutionary "Independence Cha-Cha" originally performed by Congolese rumba great Joseph Kabasele is given a rousing treatment with a shout to the 17 African countries, including her own Benin, that became independent in the 'Year of Africa'.Incidentally, Angelique herself was born in 1960 and she had been rehearsing the song with Cameroonian legend Manu Dibango before his death last year.
The title track "Mother Nature" tells the story of ancestral struggles that have played out with the African diaspora, and how these struggles manifest in environmental justice.
Kidjo reaches out to the diaspora with James Poyser from the American hip-hop group the Roots producing the track "Take It or Leave It" featuring the US duo Earthgang.
"Flying High" is a rousing anthem of unity, celebrating the beauty of life featuring an infectious guitar riff.
Overall, this is an outstanding album from one of the most enduring voices in World Music, who has her finger on the pulse of new trends and draws on some of the biggest young musical talent to connect with a whole new generation of fans.