The Daily Californian Online

Angelique Kidjo Unites Diverse, Globe-Spanning Musical Traditions in Vibrant Concert

By Justin Bolois
Contributing Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Category: Arts & Entertainment > Music > Concerts

At the core of African music lies an interlocking relationship between performer and audience that encourages active participation as opposed to the European notion of a motionless, stoic listener. For African cultures, reaching a state of spiritual ecstasy rests on the idea of music-making, and Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo brought this same energy and movement to a concert put on by Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall, transforming the typically mild-mannered venue into a scene of joyous frenzy.

To a roaring audience, Kidjo swaggered on stage with a penetrating smile and unleashed a voice that deftly oscillated between angelic tones and guttural snarls. Before her accompanying band chimed in with succinct funk-vamps, Kidjo opened the show with a solo piece that combined just her voice and the clap of her hands. The audience followed her lead and the resulting texture of rhythms magnified the raw force behind her voice, supplying the imaginative material to reconnect to the cradle of civilization.

Kidjo and her band mates are categorized under the myopic term World Music, a classification that ignores the diversity within cultures. But the lack of boundaries implied by World Music actually suits the multi-cultural influences and techniques that she uses. Similar to Afro-beat legend Fela Kuti, Kidjo talked in between songs about the importance of Otis Redding, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix as being tantamount to the native rhythms of Western Africa.

In covering songs like Brown's "Cold Sweat" or Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up" along with her own compositions, Kidjo asserted a common thread among all Black music. African music and African American music are often commercially separated, but Kidjo's interpretations theoretically reconnected the two as having a common approach: taking a band and turning it into a virtual drum-kit, as funk scholar Rickey Vincent notes.

Kidjo posed funk as a global groove that imparts the idea of unity. Sound sappy? How about invigorating? The charismatic singer engineered something rarely seen at a concert. After parading through the aisles, Kidjo proceeded to ask the entire audience to join her on stage for a drum-circle, no backstage pass required.

A swarm of Berkeley quasi-intellectuals soon rushed down the aisles and unleashed their bad-selves on stage. It was the type of night where you just shrugged off the notion of 60-year-olds grinding in the aisle way. Blurring the lines between audience and performer, Kidjo became a spectator of her own show and changed the dynamic of concert boundaries. She successfully convinced the audience to believe they were an important part of the performance, that their relationship with her was mutually inclusive.

Initally these stage antics seemed gimmicky. But this might stem from a cultural distrust of such genuine warmth without questioning ulterior motives. And whether it was the sweetness of her voice, expanding like concentric circles in a pond, or the vigor of her gyrating thrusts, Kidjo exuded an authenticity that cannot be denied. During the onstage drum circle, Kidjo could be seen carrying the heels and purse of a woman dancing. Remember, this is an international superstar.

"We cry the same way, we bleed the same way, we sing the same way," claimed Kidjo. Well, maybe not the last part, but what was agreed upon was that you couldn't celebrate life sitting down.


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