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Entertainment of Thursday, 13 November 2014


Rawlings’ “kind words” gave me wings – Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo’s musical journey is a twizzle of diverse experiences, genres, language and cultural influences as captured in her inspirational memoir - “Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music”.

The music superstar is one of the most highly recognised performers the world over, mostly because of the verve she displayed on stage while she performed her spectacularly well written songs or sometimes tunes composed by other African musicians; the likes of Mariam Makeba for example.

It was after one of her spectacular performances that Ghana’s former president Jerry John Rawlings approached her with what in her term, were “kind words”.

Kidjo said it was her first performance for the ECOWAS Heads of Governments meeting at Cotonou. “I saw all these presidents, men my father’s age, looking at me as if I was a piece of meat, with disdain, without respect. Like I was a call girl because I was performing. I remember standing onstage in a black and golden dress and feeling so humiliated. I knew then that I could never go on singing in these conditions,” she recalled.

The ‘Ife’ singer, however, noted the charismatic Ghanaian leader at the time, walked up to her after the performance, and said, “Your voice doesn’t belong to you. You have the responsibility to care for it and use it for those who are voiceless.”

“Those words gave me wings and have always stayed with me.”

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Ghana’s most celebrated radio drive time host Kwabena Anokye Adisi on the Starr Drive on Starr 103.5 FM, Kidjo admitted the intense power those words still bear over her.

“It’s still with me because not many men in Africa support a woman singing and not any head of state in Africa has ever said anything to me till today. None of them have really come to me in regard of respect,” she noted sadly.

According to her, she can count the number of prominent African men who have genuinely shown appreciation for her work.

“Very few of them. I mean the only people who have given me respect and attention was Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. They have always been there.”

With a fascinating story from humble beginnings at the West African country of Benin to Paris, New York and world stages, the memoirist chronicles how she grew from being small town performer into a headline-grabbing musician who has had collaborations with world stars like Alicia Keys and Carlos Santa.

Kidjo, currently a UNICEF ambassador, told Bola Ray she was tired of hearing of the West talk down Africa.

“It’s amazing to see because sometimes when I am outside of Africa, I can’t even tell you in words how much I cry for my continent, how much I tell people you are telling the story from one perspective,” she said, adding, “Every story has double perspective or multiple perspective. The story you telling about us is just for your own interest, I refuse for you to see my continent just through your lenses. Get multi-faceted lenses and do your homework. Don’t put us in a box. I just can’t stand it.”

Kidjo was brought up in Benin, in a family that places a lot of importance on spiritual growth and this, according to her, has contributed to her ability to express herself genuinely and confidently to the world and her audience.

According to Kidjo, her parents, both educated, valued Catholic Christian rites and indigenous spiritual rituals on the same level and raised her and nine other siblings to regard and see spirituality through the same lenses.

Today, the illustrious daughter of the continent is serving as a role model to upcoming and even well established African female acts.

Her autobiography which took three years to finish was forwarded by South African Human Rights Activist, Desmond Tutu, and the Introduction written by her good friend, American R&B genius Alicia Keys.

Former US president Bill Clinton has also written a promotional blurb for the inspirational autobiography.