African Queen Kidjo Delights audience in Belfast

Before this particular reviewer commences this particular review a certain amount of bias must be confessed. In the mid-nineties; while a lot of my peers were listening to hardcore rave or grunge music, artists such as Angelique Kidjo could be found in my fledgling CD collection. Indeed given how long the Beninese songstress has been on the music scene it is hard to believe that this was her first visit not just to Belfast; as was the case on this occasion, but the first time that she has played in Ireland at all – quite a coup for the international arts festival in Belfast.

She’s a UNICEF good will ambassador, she’s an advocacy ambassador and multi-award winning recording artist and last Monday night took to the stage. The critically acclaimed singer was in town to show case some of her best known songs as well as those from her latest offering, a reimagining of Talking Heads 1980 album Remain in Light, which became known for such hits as Once in a Lifetime, and The Great Curve, and which it is said was inspired by many of the rythem found in African music. So it is only natural that one of Africa’s top recording artists brings those beats back home.

 The night began with an upbeat rythem. Born Under Punches was her opening song, the lines punch out like a great political statement, “Take a look at these hands, take a look at these hands” Kidjo has a power and range to her voice that makes her audience immediately sit up, pay attention and crave more still. “All I want is to breathe” she sings melodically. The whole time Talking Heads original disappears into the mists of time and what emerges is something fresh and different that makes the song sound as if it was meant to be sung by Angelique Kidjo. Next up on the process of transformation is Cross-eyed and Painless originally a funk disco vibes song, somewhere in the back of the mind the listener can still hear the original with the new version laid over it and appreciate how it has been made completely new.

As well as her music, Angelique Kidjo is also known for her advocacy work and her work to help young girls around the world, who would otherwise be married off at a young age, achieve their goals of a productive education. In tribute to this she slows down the tone and sings a heartstring pulling lament Cauri. Moving swiftly back into Talking Heads material came Listening Wind, a song Kidjo uses to illustrate the greed and corruption that is riddling both the African continent and the world.

The Great Curve is transformed into a afro jazz number with a fast paced drum beat, and pulsating trumpet sounds, high tempo afro beats and electric guitar blend. The world moves on a woman’s hips indeed, this is another song that seems made for Angelique Kidjo

Next song on the reportoire is one neither of hers nor Talking Heads but “If you don’t know this you have not been living on planet earth”” she declared to an enthusiastic audience before the familiar beat of Pata Pata starts up (CJ: put it this way, you do know it, you just don’t know that you know it, if you search for it on Google you’ll soon be thinking “ah that one!”)

The Overload, updated by Angelique Kidjo into a song with attitude. African drum beats slow paced, electro pop turned afro rock with a smooth brass line.

Next up was the ultimate in audience participation. Angelique at this stage had well and truly seeped into the spirits of her audience and she new it. Now it was time for them to join in, not one person was uninfected with the rythem and the beat that she was spreading. Within minutes not a member of that audience wasn’t singing “Mama se Mamá se Mama Afirika” The world is Africa and Africa is the world; and the world is above all else human.
After the excitement and euphoria had lowered just a touch the magic was continued in the form of the iconic Once in a Lifetime (not on the Into Light album but a welcome addition nonetheless). The song is familiar enough to be recognised but Kidjo gives it her own twist.

The tempo was kept high and the audience participation also kept to the maximum with Tumba, a high octane catchy tune that sticks in the memory. Then comes a song that began it all, that first brought the hostess for the evening to this particular reviewer’s attention – Malaika , a melodic and tender love song in Swahili from the archives of African folk music.

Angelique Kidjo rounded off the night with her funked up version of Burning Down the House, a song not on the current album, also famously covered by Tom Jones and the Cardigans.

On the whole, while some might have expected a more extensive back catalogue to be covered by Kidjo she was there to highlight her most recent recording and did so with flash and with flair. This particular reviewer isn’t in the habit of liking an album of cover versions, often thinking it lazy and a sign that an artist’s career is slowing down, however and I hate again to show bias (“oh go on”, I hear you all cry, “you know you want to”, oh ok then) this was an inspired transformation of songs and the most energetic and enjoyable show this particular reviewer has been to. The high enjoyed by this particular event is still being felt, well done Angelique!

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