Angélique KidjoProduced Jean Hebrail
Mango Records through Polygram
Reviewed by Pip Hinman
Fifa, Angélique Kidjo's latest album, was produced, she says, "in a very special way". Kidjo went back to the land of her birth and much of her early musical inspiration, Benin, to record musicians and rhythms.
Armed with an eight-tracks tape recorder and microphones, Kidjo travelled to the tiny central west African country to meet the traditional players: percussionists, flautists and berimbau players. To these rhythms and instruments Kidjo has added those of western musicians and has come up with Fifa.
It is unmistakable Kidjo. The combination of African and western instruments and her versatile bluesy voice make this another great album. Kidjo traditionally sings in Fon, her native tongue, which lends itself to her strong style. In Fifa, Kidjo includes some verses in English in an attempt, she says, to reach out to music lovers all over the world.
Fifa, like her 1994 album Ayé, was produced in London, Paris and San Francisco. Much of both albums could be described as funk rock which, although slick, is well combined with more traditional rhythms and instruments. Kidjo's choice to sing in the very tonal Fon gives her work its special quality.
In Ayé, Kidjo spends much of the album speaking up about the big issues — poverty, injustice and racism. In Fifa, she is more introspective. Many songs relate to rediscovering her musical ("Sound of the Drums", "Wombo Lombo") and her voodoo spiritual roots ("Shango", "Goddess of the Sea").
While Kidjo's music is particularly good to dance to — making her one of the few African woman after Miriam Makeba to achieve real international fame — her softer melodies such as title track "Fifa", about her newborn child, and "Naima", a lullaby, are both very moving.
Kidjo was bought up in a musical household in Ouidah, the voodoo capital of Benin. Her mother ran a touring theatrical company, her brother a band. Then, Benin was the musical crossroads for the sounds of west, central and north Africa: makossa, rhumba and Arabic pop. Kidjo says she was also influenced by Beninoise traditional singers, Annie Lennox, Neneh Cherry, Aretha Franklin, Peter Gabriel, James Brown, Youssou N'Dour and Miriam Makeba, among others.
Some have criticised Kidjo for not sticking to a more traditional musical representations as many other African artists have done. Her response: "I won't do my music different to please some people. I'm not going to play traditional drums and dress like bush people. I'm not here for that."
This Kidjo fan is glad about that.