We’re not even done with the first month of 2014 yet, and Angelique Kidjo is already having one eventful year.
Her latest album, “Eve,” was released on Tuesday. Earlier this month, she released her memoir, “Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music” (with Rachel Wenrick). Also this month, she flew to Luxembourg to perform “Ife,” a poetic, orchestral piece set to music by American composer Philip Glass, at the Philharmonie Luxembourg.
“It’s been a project that has been going on for a while,” Kidjo said of “Ife,” on the phone from her Brooklyn home. “We’ve talked about how we worked together from so many years, and Philip actually wanted me to just give him the poem and, then, he could write something – because we wanted to make the classical world meet with another world of music. So it’s an amazing process of his to go through my language and touch it phonetically to be able to write the song, actually.”
Whether she’s performing in Yoruba (as she does in “Ife”) or the oodles of other languages she’s fluent in, the 53-year-old Benin native Kidjo, who will perform at Hayti Heritage Center in Durham on Wednesday, is an artist who obviously has a lot to dispense.
“Throughout the years, what I’ve realized is that when I am inspired to do a song, I don’t choose the language that goes with it,” she said. “The information will bring me the language, therefore the melody that goes with it and the rhythm that follows. So, when I start doing it, I just stop putting things together. And if somebody asks me which one comes first, I’m incapable of telling you because it becomes one entity for me.”
Her latest album got off the ground after Kidjo, who is also a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, visited Kenyan villages and was moved by the women she heard harmonizing in these villages.
“I’ve been traveling and doing work with women in conflict zones, teenagers that went through rape and other things,” she said. “And sometimes, it just kills me. I come back and I’m drenched, and music is always the only thing that replenishes me, that gives me strength again in human beings. So, I started writing all those experiences because I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was just following my inspiration.”
Kidjo cooks up music the same way she cooks up food, which is another of her passions. This would explain why “Spirit Rising” is not just a memoir of Kidjo’s amazing life, tracking down all the high points: growing up in Benin before continuing political conflicts that prohibited her from being an artist led her to flee the country in 1983; then relocating to Paris and eventually going on to become a Grammy-winning, international star.
Oh no – “Spirit” is also a cookbook, filled with recipes Kidjo has perfected over the years. She said, “Somebody at HarperCollins was a fan of my music, and said, ‘Why don’t we broaden that idea, and you can tell the story that should be used,’ that the story behind my career will be something that would interest people.”
While Kidjo said she comes from a culture of storytellers, she also pointed out that many of her people are “too shy to tell our stories.” Of course, with the words she weaves together either on the mic or on the page, Kidjo hopes she inspires her people and others to start speaking their minds.
“Because sometimes, things happen in your life and you think that it’s you alone that things are happening to,” she said. “And when you tell your story, it gives people the sense of belonging.”