African Legends: Angelique Kidjo

The concept of timeless music is one that has always eluded me. This is because I feel that in most cases, music is created for the moment; and that if 20 years down the line, a song doesn't sound as good as it did when initially released, then that should be fine as it has served its purpose. Regardless of what I feel, the consensus is that music should “stand the test of time”. One artist whose music, that even I will refer to as timeless is the mercurial — Angelique Kidjo also known as Mama Africa.

Background/Legendary Status

Picture Courtesy

Kidjo was born in Benin Republic in West Africa in 1960 and has been an active professional musician since the 1980s. A career spanning over 40 years is no easy achievement. The multiple Grammy award-winning artist has released over 17 albums and is still very active and relevant; with her latest project-Celia, released in 2019. So what makes Mama Africa a legend? The answer is not exactly a simple one. It is a combination of a number of factors. Her undeniable talent, consistency, commercial and critical success over such a long period of time are all elements that have secured her status as a legend. One of her strong suits is perhaps her multi-cultural sensibilities. She is fluent and has made music in over 5 languages including French, Yoruba, Fon, Swahili, and English. This is partly what has made her a true International icon. In addition, her impeccable stagecraft over these last 40 years has played a huge part in her success. Just watch her performance at the 62nd Grammys below to understand.

Style of music

The album art for 1989 Album under Island Records — “Parakou”

The versatility of her influences makes it a bit difficult to attribute a single genre/style to her. This is probably why she has for so long been othered by the mainstream into the outdated “World Music” category. Dare I say that Mrs. Kidjo’s music can somewhat be defined as Afrofusion. Why? you may ask. If you have paid attention to the majority of the music; you’ll notice that despite whatever genre she is blending into, be it Jazz, R&B, Latin styles, etc, the main constant is that her African heritage is present.

This is done particularly through the use of her rhythmic patterns which are almost always of West African origin. The perfect example of this would be her latest Album — Celia, which was a tribute to Cuban Legend Celia Cruz. Kidjo on this project essentially remixed 10 of Celia Cruz’s songs. To give these songs her own West African interpretation, she employed the services of the Afrobeat drumming pioneer, Tony Allen.


Picture by Olivier Metzger

Simply by being the star she is, Angelique Kidjo has laid her own version of a blueprint for African artists seeking acclaim home and abroad to follow. Her influence on Afropop music today is ever-present, as seen in artists like Yemi Alade and Burna Boy. The next time you hear Yemi Alade refer to herself as Mama Africa, remember that it comes directly from Kidjo. When next you hear Burna Boys smash hit “Anybody” remember that the hook is an interpolation of Kidjo’s 1991 single “We we”. Her legacy is secured. We don’t know what the future holds for Angelique, but we are sure that the work she has done is enough for her to be referred to as legendary.

Sounds From Africa is an online music media platform that produces audio and written content. Our main aim is to display the diversity in African music.