Put on an Angélique Kidjo album. Listen to her voice – honest, powerful, and expressive. Open her autobiography, Spirit Rising: My life, My Music, and hear her tell the powerful story that made the little girl from Benin, in West Africa, into the international artist and activist she is today.
She tells her story simply, but there is great depth to her understanding of human rights issues in Africa and throughout the world. Several themes pervade her life.
One is family. Her relationships as daughter, sister, wife and mother are portrayed as sustaining her throughout her life and career. She grew up as 1 of 10 children; her father was a postal worker and her mother ran a theater company. Music and conversation were abundant at her house. She was a child who asked a lot of questions and never lost the original sense of injustice she felt when she learned about slavery and apartheid.
The music she hears as a child was often intertwined with the civil rights movements in Africa and America in the 1960’s and 70’s. She hears Miriam Makeba, “Mama Africa,” whose South African citizenship was revoked because of her activism against apartheid. Makeba becomes her role model and eventually her mentor and friend. Aretha Franklin is the first woman she sees on an album cover, and she realizes it’s possible to have a career in music.
Her exploration of how Africa influenced music throughout the world is another theme in her music and her life. Through different albums she explores traditional music of Africa and the fusion of African music with the music of other cultures in the Americas.
As her career progresses, she performs at concerts to bring attention to injustices in Africa. She’s asked to be a UNICEF ambassador. She tells of visits to refugee camps, orphanages and villages without adequate nutrition. “The work for UNICEF inspired my music and my music helped me recover from these trips,” she writes.
As a result of this work, she founded the Batonga Foundation to educate girls in Africa. Her parents paid to send all their daughters to secondary school, which was unusual in Benin at the time. She credits her family with giving her the benefits of an education and wants to pass it on. “The solution to Africa’s problems must be provided by Africans who have experienced them firsthand, especially the African women, who are the continent’s backbone,” she writes.
This book is beautiful, including the gorgeous black and white photo of Kidjo on the cover. It’s printed on shiny paper and contains publicity shots from Kidjo’s albums, candid pics in the studio, and shots of her with her family. Each chapter begins with colorful African patterns on the left-hand page and African motifs are used throughout. A wonderful surprise at the end is the inclusion of the personal recipes Kidjo refers to making for family and friends throughout the book. Spirit Rising invites us into Angélique Kidjo’s life with African hospitality.
The library currently has the following CD’s and DVD by Angélique Kidjo:
- Angélique Kidjo and Friends: Spirit Rising (DVD)
- Black Ivory Soul
- Keep on Moving: The Best of Angélique Kidjo
Formats Available: Book (Regular Type)
Reviewed by Laura, Main Library