As the lights go down, a hush falls over the Winspear. In seconds the silence will be broken…
Rewind to a week before the concert. I am writing the preview for Angelique Kidjo. I am ignorant. I know nothing about her music, or her impact. So I do what any amateur writer-in-progress would do. I Google her name. I go to her website, I click the “career” tab and I peruse. The page invites me to Pick a category below to explore Kidjo’s achievements. I click “awards”.
Let me articulate myself clearly. I am strongly suggesting you do the same. Anyone in need of a little extra motivation and inspiration, I invite you to take a look at what this magnificent woman has accomplished and achieved. Change is not a passive term in Angelique’s vocabulary. She has changed the world, and still, everyday she pushes the boundaries a little further. She opens a few more doors; she provides a few more opportunities. She changes someone’s life.
It took me about twenty seconds to realize how incredibly lucky I was to be given the opportunity to review this concert.
BBC’s “African continents’ 50 most iconic figures.”
The first women to be named one of Forbes “40 Most Powerful Celebrities In Africa.”
Forgive me for reiterating parts of my preview, but these achievements are not to be taken lightly or understated, especially in the context of this article. Releasing 12 albums since 1988, becoming a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2002, receiving the United Nations “Champions of the Earth Award,” accepting an Honorary Doctorate in Music from Berklee College, creating The Bartonga Foundation for Womens’ Education, accepting The New York Women’s Foundation Award, and most recently, taking part in the “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” 30 Songs / 30 Days series, this soulful, Grammy Award winning songstress embodies the power of music.
I couldn’t fully realize the extent of that power until I saw her live.
…The band is already onstage. The guitar begins, warmly rebounding off the walls, providing a canvas, a cushion for the impact of her voice. Easing us all in. Her voice comes from backstage. It’s electric. It cuts through the pretenses, preconceptions, and the borders. You feel it in your whole body. If we are to venture into a discussion of technicalities, and if I was to say that she was on top of the pitch, that would be a gross understatement. She completely shatters my concept of pitch with unshakeable confidence and skill. Only then does she come onstage. In reality it has only been a few seconds, possibly a few notes, but it feels as if time has transcended.
Her presence must be experienced in person. She owns the stage, but not in a diva-esque, I-know-I-am-better-than-the-rest manner. She is confident and engaging, and unbelievably humble. Conversationally she asks, How are you? We cheer. She replies easily, Me, I’m good. Busy, happy, and a little worried. This world is going crazy. But we still have music, right?
Right. There are a million powerful moments within her performance that strongly impressed and impacted me, to the point of making me reconsider the focus of my future Graduate research. What resonated with me most strongly however, was the simplicity of putting a message into the music. Some artists say that music is a weapon. Drop beats not bombs. Angelique Kidjo shows us that music has the potential to be one of the most influential educational tools in our contemporary society. We have all the means and opportunity to use it as such, yet for some unbeknownst reason to me, we don’t. Why. Honestly, why? It is simplicity at it’s finest. Skeptics may argue that this concept of using music for education is completely insignificant. I strongly disagree. The tools and power to educate our people, and to make a change, is in every musician’s fingertips and on every vocalist’s lips. Angelique Kidjo talked about the power of education, racial and religious tolerance, and empowerment and self-worth without batting an eye. Her presentation was honest, and her conviction and strength in the message never wavered. We ate it up and reveled in it, like it was revolutionary. Is this where we are at in our popular and contemporary music culture? Unless we talk about capitalist values and fleeting and/or damaging relationships, people (Read: Consumers) don’t want to hear it? I don’t buy it. Music provides the perfect template for the transmission of a message. Music is one of the few mediums that can facilitate a critical conversation, where we can begin to develop a political and societal constructive discourse.
Artists are doing this. We can look to Angelique Kidjo, Pete Seeger, Emmanuel Jal, Ani DiFranco, and many others for their immeasurable strength in supporting a cause and promoting productive content and discussion. Unfortunately, when looking at the statistics, for every artist that makes up this musical movement to create change, there are a hundred more to fight against it.
But it is the message of these resilient musical educators that stands up against the meaningless expression of the popular icon of the moment. Their messages are the fire and power that fuels the raw artistic drive to make a change. I would have never believed or imagined literally everyone in the Winspear would stand up and dance because Angelique Kidjo told us to stand up and dance. When she invited audience members to go up on stage, and of course no one moved, she said, Fine. I can wait, and took a seat. People, including myself, rushed onto the stage. It is this intuitive knowledge and understanding of human nature that allows artists to create such a dramatic impact. Her talent is undeniable. Her energy is similar to the unobstructed forward-flying motion of a child. Her presence is honest, humble, compassionate, and strong, while at the same time, leaving the lasting impression in the back of your consciousness that you are in the presence of a truly revolutionary cultural figure. A women with a mission, Angelique Kidjo is the epitome of the power of song. And I can only dream of how she will impact and change the world next.
View her upcoming tour dates.
Learn more about The Bartonga Foundation
See when Angelique Kidjo is in yeg next @ yeglive