Angélique Kidjo started singing as a young girl in her native Benin, in West Africa. She moved on to Paris and Brooklyn — her current home — and, along the way, became one of the most acclaimed African singers alive.
Kidjo named her 10th album Eve, for her mother — and Yvonne Kidjo herself appears on the song “Bana,” which urges the listener to value people over money. It’s a sentiment in keeping with an album dedicated to the women of Africa, offering encouragement in song after song: Lift yourselves up. Marry who you love. Fight oppression. When Kidjo sings about these things, she does it with fire in her belly and funk in the groove.
The idea for the album began when Kidjo was swept into a group of singing women in Kenya. She worked a phone recording of that moment into a song, and then decided that women and women’s voices should define the whole record. Later, she took her basic tracks to Benin, traveling its width and breadth, recording nine different choral groups to back up her own lead vocals. On Eve, the sings in multiple languages.
Kidjo says it wasn’t always easy fitting these women’s choirs into her sophisticated pop sound. “Are you kidding?” one group asked after hearing the track. “Do you really think we are going to sing that?” Kidjo’s confident reply: “I’ll teach you.” She also put a few non-African musical guests through their paces. “Ebile” celebrates the pride parents take in their children over a tricky percussion groove from Benin and strings that work to keep up. The latter comes courtesy of the Kronos Quartet.
The women of Africa endure sometimes horrifying conditions and face huge challenges. But Angélique Kidjo says she believes with a passion that a better future awaits them. The singer’s great gift is to pour what could so easily be anger and frustration into songs that uplift and inspire us. With Eve, she’s done that again.