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African Music Legend: Angélique Kidjo



With amazing contributions to the popularity of African music across the globe, one of Africa's most celebrated daughters takes music to a whole new height especially with her graphic music videos that showcase African tradition and culture. Born in Cotonou, Benin in the western region of Africa, Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, known simply as Angélique Kidjo is a Grammy Award–winning Beninoise singer, songwriter and activist.   She is globally known for her diverse musical influences and creative videos. She grew up listening to Beninese traditional music, Miriam Makeba, James Brown, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, and Santana. Therefore, by the time she was six, Kidjo was performing with her mother's theatre troupe, giving her an early appreciation for traditional music and dance.   Her father is from the Fon people of Ouidah and her mother from the Yoruba people hence her use of the language fondly in her songs. She is also influenced by Afropop, Caribbean zouk, Congolese rumba, jazz, gospel, and Latin styles.  She has recorded George Gershwin's "Summertime", Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" and The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter", and has collaborated with Dave Matthews and the Dave Matthews Band, Kelly Price, Alicia Keys, Branford Marsalis, Robbie Nevil, Philip Glass, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Carlos Santana, John Legend, Herbie Hancock, Josh Groban and Cassandra Wilson.   Time Magazine has called her "Africa's premier diva". The BBC has included Kidjo in its list of the African continent's 50 most iconic figures. The Guardian has listed her as one of their Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World and Kidjo is the first woman to be listed among "The 40 Most Powerful Celebrities In Africa" by Forbes Magazine. The Daily Telegraph in London describes her as "The undisputed queen of African music" during the 2012 Olympic Games River of Music Festival. In March 2013 NPR, National Public Radio in America, called her "Africa's greatest living diva". She is also an occasional contributor to the New York Times. On June 6, 2013, Kidjo was elected vice-president of CISAC.   Kidjo started singing in her school band, Les Sphinx, and found success as a teenager with her adaptation of Miriam Makeba's "Les Trois Z", which played on national radio. She recorded the album Pretty with the Cameroonian producer Ekambi Brilliant and her brother Oscar. It featured the songs "Ninive", "Gbe Agossi" and a tribute to the singer Bella Bellow, one of her role models. The success of the album allowed her to tour all over West Africa. Continuing political conflicts in Benin prevented her from being an independent artist in her own country and led her to relocate to Paris in 1983.   Her hits include the songs "Agolo", "We We", "Adouma", "Wombo Lombo", "Afirika", "Batonga", and her version of "Malaika". She is fluent in Fon, French, Yorùbá and English, and sings in all four languages; she also has her own personal language, which includes words that serve as song titles such as "Batonga". "Malaika" is a song sung in the Swahili language. Kidjo often utilizes Benin's traditional Zilin vocal technique and jazz vocalese. Her albums include Logozo, Ayé, Fifa, Trilogy, Oremi, Black Ivory Soul, Oyaya!, Djin Djin, Õÿö, Spirit Rising and EVE.   She has also received several awards including Octave RFI (France, 1992), Prix Afrique en Creation (France, 1992), Danish Music Awards: Best Female Singer (Denmark, 1995), Kora Music Awards: Best African Female artist (Africa, 1997), Mobo Awards for Best World Music Act (UK, 2002), Médaille De Vermeil De La Ville De Paris (France, 2004), Africa-Festival Award (Germany, 2006), SAFDA African Pride Award (South Africa, 2006), Antonio Carlos Jobim Award (Canada, 2007), N.A.A.C.P. Image Award for Outstanding World Music Album (USA, 2008), Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album (USA, 2008), Go Global World Music Award (Denmark, 2008), Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic (Italy, 2008), Commander of the National Order of Benin (Benin, 2008), Making a Difference for Women Award from the National Council for Research on Women (USA, 2009), Afropop Hall of Fame (USA,2009), Celebrating Women Award from the New York Women's Foundation (USA, 2009) and Premio Tenco Prize for her entire singing career (Italy, 2009). On May 8, 2010, Kidjo was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Music by Berklee College (USA), Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France, 2010), Grand Prix Des Musiques Du Monde De La Sacem for her entire songwriting career (France, 2010), Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary World Music Album (USA, 2011), Prix Special de la Francophonie (Washington DC, USA, 2011), Champions of the Earth Award [37] (United Nations, 2011), BET Awards nomination for Best International Act: Africa (USA, 2011), Miroir Awards for World Music of the Festival d'été de Quebec (Canada, 2012), Trophée Des Arts, FIAF French Institute, Alliance Française (New York, 2012), Keep A Child Alive's Award for Outstanding Humanitarian Work, shared with Oprah Winfrey, (New York, 2012), Lifetime Achievement Award from the African Diaspora Awards 2012, Songlines Music Awards in the Best Artist category (UK 2013) and Grammy nominations including the Best Music Video of 1995 and Best World Music Album in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2010 and 2007, for which she won.   Angélique Kidjo is the 4th laureate of the Antonio Carlos Jobim Award (2007). Created in 2004 on the 25th anniversary of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, each year the award is given to an artist distinguished in the field of world music whose influence on the evolution of jazz and cultural crossover is widely recognized. She now resides in New York City, New York, United States. Written by: Azeez Sanusi

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