Ang‚lique Kidjo, Queen of Benin

Four of us were somehow squeezed together on a small Vespa scooter as we pulled into the bustling market of Ouidah that steamy afternoon. I (Rusty) distinctly remember the stereo at one of the small shops blaring out something that sounded a bit like Zairian disco music, a bit like R&B, and a bit like funk. The sublime voice had me in a trance. I turned to my host brother, Habib, and asked who the singer was. He looked at me skeptically, as if he couldn’t believe that I didn’t know the voice, and responded “Eh? -tu ne la connais pas? – ‡a c’est la reine b‚ninoise!” (You don’t know her? – that’s the Queen of Benin).

Benin (pronounced Bay-nahn) is a small country bordered on the West by the Republic of Togo, on the North by Burkina Faso and the Republic of Niger, and on the East by the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It’s not often covered in the international press, but it is home to one of the few thriving democracies in West Africa. Benin is an incredibly diverse country, where over half the people speak Fon. Yoruba, Mina, Bariba and Dendi are the other major languages; and French is the official language.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Ouidah, Benin is the birthplace of one of the most famous female African vocalists in the world. My host brother wasn’t exaggerating when he told me that Ang‚lique is a queen. There’s a reverence that the B‚ninois have for her that I only started to appreciate when I first heard her on the radio that sticky morning. When I later attended her concert in the capital along with 130,000 other adoring fans, the electricity in the air was unlike anything I’d ever felt, and Ang‚lique soon had the crowd worked up into a frenzy of dancing and grooving to her music.

We (Rusty and Imran) got our hot little hands on a pre-release of Ang‚lique’s new album, Black Ivory Soul, to be released on March 19th in the United States. Kidjo’s music is haunting. It simmers with sweet soulful sounds and also vibrates with intense rhythms that captivate the listener from the first time one hears her voice. A wide range of influences can be discerned from within the layers of this musical fusion. It is at once modern and traditional; African and Western. From elegant ballads with Sade’s seductive power and Enya’s mystique to energizing melodies imbued with the spirit of Miriam Makeba, Ang‚lique embodies the quintessence of modern world music – you can’t always tell where her music is from. As she sings in English, Fon, French and Yoruba, understanding all the words doesn’t seem to matter as the music melts within you.

HBS will be lucky to have Ang‚lique for one night only within the intimate confines of Burden Auditorium when she will perform to kick off the 4th Annual Africa Business Conference on March 8th. This will be Kidjo’s first stop before she launches a world tour that will take her from Montr‚al to Brussels to Stockholm. Come one, come all to this world music feast – you will not be disappointed. It is not everyday that one gets to listen to a real Queen, particularly as she sings ® Ses Petits Riens ¯..

Ang‚lique Kidjo, at Burden Hall, Harvard Business School, Friday March 8th, 2002. Tickets are $20 available at or in the Spangler Grille everyday this week between 12-2 pm.