Time magazine once called her Africa’s premier diva.
She’s one of the continent’s most iconic women according to the BBC. The Guardian listed her as one of the World’s Top 100 Most Influential Women.
But for me, on this hot steamy night, as I rocked to the sounds of her music, bumping shoulder to shoulder with the people seated next to me on our plastic fold-up chairs, Angélique Kidjo’s voice was more than the creative intersection of almost every type of musical genre.
It produced a kind of mysterious yet tangible energy, wafting over the stage and into the crowd. Waves of drum-beating, tribal sounds pumped as people swayed to the melodic trappings of Kidjo’s beautiful voice.
As I stood under this tented amphitheater in the middle of Martha Stewart region, the continents and the divides fell away for a few enchanting hours. I escaped into the music of Kidjo’s joyful world and felt a most unpredictable connection to the larger world and a deeper sense of self.
I had never heard of Angelique Kidjo before this night. Her voice is immortalized on thirteen albums and celebrated in three Grammy awards.
No surprise as I listened to her musical genius. It’s undeniable and reminded me of greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. The few hundred people gathered next to me at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, about an hour outside of New York city, obviously agreed.
The Caramoor is a 90 acre estate celebrating 73 years of musical history and “innovative and diverse works of the highest quality.” Caramoor’s founders, Walter Tower Rosen and Lucie Bigelow Dodge, established the center in 1945 after their son’s death in World War II.
The Rosen House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the center brings art and music together in a lush spectacular garden setting. Romantic lanterns light your way as you enter the estate at night.
Throughout the two-hour show, Kidjo journeyed with the audience through her musical beginnings and played songs in honor of the women who inspired her to dream. I was struck by Kidjo’s words of solidarity that reminded me of my recent journey to Switzerland and the African women I met there. Words like “we are linked together” and “women prevail by building bridges and soothing the soul” also echoe the mission of WomanScape:
“We are not so different,” she said to the cheering fans. “But we need the trees to talk to us about how to live.”
This message was not lost to me in this wonderland of nature.
Kidjo went on to share the power of her experiences as a young woman growing up in Benin, a West African country. Kidjo’s parents had raised their 10 children to believe anything was possible in life if they were willing to work hard and earn an education. Between sets of reinvented songs – familiar tunes interpreted in unusual ways – Kidjo noted how we are all African. For her, all of us learn to leave home and reconcile life beholden to others.
She’s right. We all have enslavement’s even though the type can be widely different, whether it’s job responsibilities, obligations to people, or in the worst circumstance, actual trafficking and unjust labor practices. By calling on nature to heal our hearts and minds, Kijko says, “Your brain is the ultimate weapon against hatred and enslavement of any kind.” This is personal for Kidjo who says her country’s traditional cultural values enslaved women to men.
But building a lifetime of music and song has been an amazing tool and inspiration for Kidjo. She shares her message about being beholden to no one by breaking the confines and expectations of her music, and lives this in her personal image.
Kidjo’s credits include multilingual songs that move between orchestra symphonies to the rock-n-roll beat of British or American bands like Talking Heads.
Even the short cropped orange colored hair and unusual stage attire – a bright-orange, sequined jacket and long flowing classical skirt set Kijko apart against the hot pink, 60’s style stage props.
As the recent recipient of the prestigious 2015 Crystal Award given by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Kidjo has won the hearts and respect of people across borders.
Whether she’s performing with the Scottish National Orchestra, the Philarmonie de Paris, Carnegie Hall or in the backyards of theaters like Caramoor, Angélique Kidjo reminds us to live in the moment and never forget that life is full of possibilities. We are limited only by our creativity and desire to live in harmony with each other.
To learn more about Kidjo, visit her Facebook page or her website, or consider reading her memoir, Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music (Harper Collins). Her latest album, Remain in the Light, is the perfect reminder message for all of us. This “Ashé Mama Afrika” is WomanScape’s suggested musical escape this week, providing an ideal way to realize a more inspired, meaningful life.