Grammy-winning Beninese musician Angélique Kidjo delivered a powerful musical message of unity and respect for women’s rights on the Congo Square Stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the USA on Sunday 26 April.
Though now based in New York City, 54-year-old Kidjo, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and founder of the Batonga Foundation, continues to be deeply involved in African issues, especially those of women. Her latest album, Eve, released in early 2014, is dedicated to the resilience and beauty of the women of Africa.
Kidjo, known to many as “the undisputed queen of African music”, won over the crowd with high-voltage dance moves and powerful vocals. The show presented a mix of styles: modern and traditional, African and Latin and Caribbean, European and American – also reflecting the roots of New Orleans’ signature sound.
The songs, accompanied by Kidjo’s comments, were energetic and empowering. “Women and children are always the most vulnerable,” she told the crowd, according to a recent article in The Times-Picayune. “Lately, rape has become the weapon of war.” Some of Africa’s most brutal battles are fought using women’s bodies, yet women are not invited to take part in peacemaking processes, she said. “It’s about time this happens,” she said, to loud applause, and then launched into a song related to this message.
Later Kidjo performed a slower, more melodic tune inspired by young African girls who are determined to get an education and become the next generation of leaders. “When we invest in girls’ education, the GDP of a country goes up,” Kidjo said to cheers from the crowd, adding that educating girls also leads to decreases in maternal death during childbirth, sexual violence, disease pandemics – and the list goes on. “Those girls know what time it is and want to take the lead in their own lives,” she said.
Kidjo also performed a tribute to her role model, Grammy-winning South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba, known as ‘Mama Africa’. She ended her show with further displays of unity, particularly a tune dedicated to the spirit the New Orleans Jazz Fest. “This togetherness,” she said, “the togetherness that we have to achieve in order to live in a peaceful world.” She sang and danced her way into the crowd during a lengthy version of her song ‘Mama Africa’, as crowd members cheered her on.
Then she gave the crowd a turn to take the stage, beginning with a handful of ladies clapping and swaying but soon growing into a group of at least 15 crowd members. “Let’s love each other exactly the way they are – no judgment, no second thought,” added the star.