mon 15/07/2019

Angélique Kidjo, Songlines World Music Awards, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Angélique Kidjo, Songlines World Music Awards, Barbican

Angélique Kidjo, Songlines World Music Awards, Barbican

Post-Mandela good vibes at leading World Music awards

Kidjo: Woman of the people

She has been called “Africa’s greatest diva” but as DJ Nihal giving the award of Artist of the Year at this year’s Songlines Awards to Angélique Kidjo pointed out the word “diva” is a loaded one, and makes you think of Mariah Carey’s backstage tantrums. Not that there’s aren’t African divas – the imperious Oumou Sangare, for one, but Kidjo is more known her down-to-earth pragmatism and idealism.

With the death of Miriam Makeba, Kidjo with age (she’s now 53) has become an even more important symbol of big ideals, helping numerous education projects for African girls, campaigning against FGM and child marriages in Africa and being known to speak truth to power (like the time she was thrown out of Zimbabwe for calling Mugabe a “monster”). Her full name, for those interested, is Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo.

Hardly anyone would begrudge her an award – although whether her music has always lived up to her ideals is another matter. Plenty of her numerous studio albums seem a little unadventurous, but whether for economical reasons or not, appearing at the Barbican with just a pianist and a small female choir added a kind of gravitas and originality that worked well. Singing a song about Mandela was always going to go down well this week, as did her own version of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”  (even if the lyrics “Have no fear for atomic energy,/'Cause none of them can stop the time” remain puzzling).

This may in fact be the strongest actual practical result of such a prize – to give exposure back home to adventurous artists

There were moments that could make one feel a little uncomfortable, when an audience of us middle-aged white liberals sing along a chorus of “Mama Africa” in solidarity with oppressed Africans – before going back to our comfortable beds. In other circumstances it might have been slightly “Kumbayah”; like a singalong with a trendy vicar. But perhaps it was the warmth of the post-Mandela moment and Kidjo’s charisma that managed to overcome that and induce a genuine sentiment of universality.

The Songlines Awards are in their fifth year (but second year as a live celebration) and have become the leading world music prize in this country since the BBC bailed out of its own World Music Awards a few years back. But if the BBC has scaled back on its commitment to World Music (they pulled the plug on the excellent long-running World Routes programme this year, too) the packed audience was evidence of a strong, partisan crowd, even in a year when there were not many obvious breakthrough acts. An exception was Mokoomba, who won the Newcomer Award, a funky, organic band from Zimbabwe, fronted by the compelling singer Mathias Muzaza.

A function of these prizes is that there is a bounce back to the countries concerned – this weekend there were numerous articles in the Zimbabwean press about them, even though they are little known at home. This may in fact be the strongest actual practical result of such a prize – to give exposure back home to adventurous artists. The other prizes were for long-running bands; the cross-cultural prize went to Dub Colussus, who have skilfully mixed Ethiopian and reggae music (although the Ethiopian element was pretty much missing in their performance at the Barbican) and Lo’Jo, a World Music institution who have been going 30 years and mix Arabic, reggae and gypsy elements with an essentially French sensibility.

Appearing at the Barbican with just a pianist and a small female choir gave her a kind of gravitas and originality that worked

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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