There are few more revered or respected African musicians than Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo. Her recording career has spanned over 20 years and has seen her firmly champion the cause for Africa and its music across the world, culminating in a Grammy award for 2008’s album Djin Djin.
Kidjo, who is also a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, has always been an inspiring figure, with numerous political and social campaigns running concurrent to her recording career. Despite leaving her home continent, first for Paris in 1991 and now residing in Brooklyn, Kidjo’s heart and soul remains in her homeland. Her 11th album Eve is perhaps the most reflective, rousing and vibrant work yet from the 53-year-old singer.
Naming of the album after an affectionate nickname for her mother is indicative of an album rooted in relationships and how people can inspire each other. It is focused on the personal rather than the broadly political. Kidjo was inspired to write many of the songs by visiting small Kenyan villages and witnessing the locals singing joyfully despite their troubles. Indeed, one such local female choir is captured and sampled on the album’s ebullient, lilting opener M’Baamba (Kenyan Song). The focus on women and their inspiring place within African communities and the rest of the world is at the heart of all of these songs.
As with all of Kidjo’s previous albums, the songs are primarily sung in a combination of different Beninian languages. Despite this possible language barrier, the songs lack nothing in accessibility to non-African audiences. Kidjo’s music is about warmth and feeling, expressed through the power of her voice. All this shines in abundance here. Musically, Eve is blessed with a wonderful sense of freedom and expression. The rhythms and busy percussion are light on their feet and constantly inventive. The influence of producer Patrick Dillet (David Byrne, Fatboy Slim) is evident in the way the music flits seamlessly from swirling organ sounds to intense rhythmic workouts and quiet gentle reflection. Kidjo’s long time close-knit band is on fine form throughout.
Despite her position as a pre-eminent African musician, Kidjo is happy to bring in non-African collaborators, and Eve features a wide range of guests and influences. Vampire Weekend are a band often noted for their love of African guitar sounds, and the New York band’s Rostam Batmanglij contributes some exquisite guitar flourishes to Bomba, a song that celebrates the sense of identity and pride African women get from traditional dress. The appearance of Batmanglij follows his band mate Ezra Koenig, who sung with Kidjo in 2011 on a version of the band’s song I Think You’re A Contra.
Elsewhere, various other collaborators appear adding their own personal touch to Kidjo’s sound, with Kidjo herself revelling in the collaborative spirit. Dr John adds a bluesy boogie to the rolling Kulumbu, while San Francisco string section Kronos Quartet add some slightly skewed and frenzied violins which gives Ebile a diverting quality. Even more impressive is the grand and expansive symphony of Awalole, which sees Kidjo and assorted local choirs backed by the Orchestre Philarmonique De Luxembourg.
For all that these guests provide a wide musical palette of styles, the most affecting moments here are the songs in which Kidjo’s wonderfully pure and strong voice shines through. Bana, featuring the voice of her mother, the titular Eve, is a particular highlight, both women’s voices joining as one symbolising the spirit in which the album was created. Eve is yet another record from Angelique Kidjo that reaffirms her position as one of the most significant Africans performing today, and is the sound of her reaching out and celebrating the strong spirit and power of African women that she embodies.