Review: Angelique Kidjo @ Southbank Center (London, 14th November 2014)


Without so much as an introduction Angelique Kidjo and her musicians walked out on stage and embraced their instruments. As Angelique intoned the first notes of ‘Ebile’ the band instinctively lit up the night. And why would she need to be introduced? After her thirty-year music career everyone recognizes the voice, the expression and the soul that represents an entire Continent. In addition to that, Angelique Kidjo’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall for the London Jazz Festival’s debut was an homage to Africa. The Beninese artist and her guests, through their vitality, overwhelming musical impetus and mind-blowing skills embodied the energy of their native land. Their two-hour concert was a powerful and genuine reflection of the strengths, contradictions and hopes of Africa and its people.

Having recently thrilled the New York audience with her show ‘Mama Africa’ dedicated to the memory of Miriam Makeba, Angelique brought to London her latest work ‘Eve’, an album intrinsically bound up with her cultural origins. Thanks to the help of Nigerian singer Asa, the dynamic Cuban/Nigerian duo Ibeyi and the excellent all-woman ten-piece Mike King choir, the ‘Voice of Africa’ sang and danced for and about her people. She conversed frankly about the problems afflicting Africa. Mentioning Ebola she reflected on the misunderstandings that are affecting the Western world concerning the epidemic. Then she turned her attention to the constant neglect and denial of women’s rights in Africa, Eve’s main subject. This is not a problem specific to Africa but to the rest of the world as well. She spoke about domestic violence and the importance of education to beat it.

All this Angelique did while alternating songs from her latest record, like the touching ‘Eva’ and the effervescent‘Bomba’. There were also covers, such as a rhythmic arrangement of Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ and a sincere tribute to Miriam Makeba with ‘Pata Pata’. Classic tunes from her past also made it into the set, such as the twenty year old‘Batonga’ and the powerful ode to her Continent ‘Afirika’.

Angelique talked, sang and danced for two hours, inspiring and entertaining her fans in an awe-inspiring burst of energy for the duration. Wearing a flowery short dress that reflected her liveliness she delighted and enraptured the Royal Festival Hall audience, who couldn’t resist leaping up from their seats to follow her dance moves. From the start of the gig, Angelique Kidjo looked after her audience, creating a direct and mutual relationship with them. Her emotional engagement with her fans was so great that during the encores ‘Blewu’ and ‘Orisha’ she allowed them to practically invade the stage. After a while the spectators began to hug her, surrounding Angelique as people would a spiritual guide or role model. And without a doubt, Angelique Kidjo has become one of them: she is a guide and role model not only for African people, but for the people of the world, especially women. Through her voice she channels the spirit of her continent to spread around the world. The determination in her message has not simply become larger than life, it has become larger than Africa!

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