Mawazine Sessions: Angélique Kidjo breaks moulds with music

In the latest instalment of our summer series, the Mawazine sessions, the Bennoise diva Angélique Kidjo discusses her new memoir, album and influential career that saw her becoming one of Africa’s top-selling artists and passionate advocates.

Angélique Kidjo performing at the Mawazine music festival in Morocco in June 2014. Courtesy Mawazine
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Your manager let it slip that you are considering coming to Abu Dhabi for a show next year. Any truth to that?

I don’t like talking about what I am not sure about. But what I can say is that there is a proposal for a possible show, so I am considering it and if it works out then I will be more than happy to be there. I previously played in Bahrain and Qatar and the crowds were great, they couldn’t stop dancing.

You recently released your memoir, Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music. What made you embark on this project?

I wanted it to be more than a memoir, a testimony of a journey by someone born in a poor country to parents with a small salary who somehow managed to send 10 kids to school. I learnt a lot from that and it made me the person that I am today. Becoming a mother myself made me grateful about the lessons I learnt from my parents. They were advocates and they taught me the importance of helping people, to help them find the skills in order for them to bloom and take the lead in their own lives.

In the book, you discuss how the music industry initially had a hard time pigeonholing you as an artist. What was it about you that they couldn’t understand?

They tried to put me in a certain place where I couldn’t do certain kinds of music because it is too European. I told them there is no such thing as European or American music without Africa being part of it. People struggled with that and I said: ‘Let us discuss who you think we are as Africans and I will tell you where you are wrong.’

Your latest album, Eve, is an African affair – it was recorded during your journeys around the continent. It has a very uplifting feel with songs celebrating African women. Were the songs a result of that journey or was that the goal all along?

It is a very celebratory album and it’s like that because that is the African women I have known all my life. They are women who smile day after day. They may not be the richest people in the world but they enjoy life. They are the first to wake up and the last to turn in at night but they are optimistic because they always ask themselves, ‘how will I make this day special for me and family?’

You have been labelled the queen of African music. In your opinion, what is your take on the popularity of music coming from Africa?

African music stands where our economy stands. All the attention that non-African artists get is not because they are more talented than us. It simply comes down to where we come from. It’s back to the pigeonholing I was telling you about earlier. People just want that single story about Africa they have been told again and again throughout, over centuries. It gives them security and makes them feel strong. They don’t want to get out of their comfort zone and confront the truth that the lives they are ­living is at the cost of many Africans. So I dedicated my album Eve to African women. I follow my ­inspiration and not the market.

Do people find you intimidating?

My grandmother taught me this ­important lesson: you can’t love everybody and not everyone will love you. That’s a rule of nature. There are people who like me and those who don’t. That’s the way it is. I am an entire person and I don’t do things without passion and I won’t say anything without meaning it. When you are that kind of personality you don’t have many friends. But it’s not that I am sitting here yearning for more friendships – the ones I have are plentiful.

Angélique Kidjo’s book, Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music, and her latest album, Eve, are out now. For details, go to

Next up on Mawazine ­Sessions: we speak to the Dubai-based Moroccan singer Jamila, whose hit songs owe a lot ­to musical styles from the Gulf