For those unfamiliar with African superstar Angelique Kidjo, her unflinching views on everything from the colonial mentalities of her French schoolmates to African politics and American history and her decision to call out slavery in her music can be found in a recent freewheeling interview with a New York magazine.
“People were very ignorant about Africa,” she recalled of her early encounters at a school in France. “They asked me, “When you’re grocery shopping, do you go there on the back of an elephant?” And I said, “Yes, and I have monkeys that carry my groceries!”
Kidjo has strong opinions on climate justice, police brutality in Nigeria, corruption in Africa and the United States which she shared in an open-ended discussion with staff reporter Julian Lucas of The New Yorker early this month.
“I knew more about the country of my fellow students at the Centre d’informations musicales, a jazz school, than they knew about my country,” she declared. Later, classmates told her that jazz wasn’t for Africans. “That was funny,” she said. “But nothing stopped me. I feel sorry for people who are ignorant. If you don’t see the beauty in Africa, there’s no beauty in you.”
Kidjo continued to defy expectations during her stay in France (she now lives in Brooklyn). When recording her first album, “Batonga” she chose her own outfit for the cover “because of all the clichés and exoticism around African women.” People had expected her to wear a boubou. “My parents didn’t raise me in a village,” she pointed out. “They raised me in a city. You ain’t gonna put me in no boubou, man!”
Kidjo takes up climate change on her new album “Mother Nature.” She sees it impacting the poorest of the poor in Africa. “We know it’s bad to cut trees. But what alternatives are we offering? To tell poor people, on top of poverty, you have to watch yourself die from hunger?”
Her views turn to politics. “We never had independence in Africa,” she says bluntly. “I don’t know how we ended up being the richest continent on the planet, with our resources controlled by a mafia of rich countries and CEOs.
“We’ve accepted that Africans have to live in poverty for the rest of the world to live large—but that’s not going to work. Unless rich countries take responsibility for their impact on the lives of poor people and build a system where resources are shared equally, we are not going to survive.”
Kidjo can be seen in the movie “The Woman King” starring Viola Davis and John Boyega. Inspired by actual events, the movie dramatizes the exploits of the Dahomean Amazons, a legendary all-female military unit in what is now southern Benin.