Go Away With … Angélique Kidjo

Angélique Kidjo credit Gilles Marie Zimmerman

By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Content Agency
February 9, 2016

Grammy Award-winning musician Angelique Kidjo says that being named UNICEF’s International Goodwill ambassador in 2002 has been a fulfilling part of her life. “It gave me the opportunity to travel to all the other continents and meet incredible women who carry the continents on their shoulders,” says the New York-based artist. “They are the main inspiration behind my songs.”

The multi-faceted activist has also been named the new anchor of United Nations Television’s news series, “21eme Siecle” (“21st Century”). The program, which airs on TV5MONDE USA, focuses on humanitarian issues worldwide. Fans may follow Kidjo on Facebook, where she posts many of her travel photos.

Q. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your travels?

A. The main lesson I learn goes against all the trends of the news today. Through my many concerts, I’ve discovered that our cultures are not so different. We are one humanity with so much in common. Politicians are always trying to emphasize our differences to stay in power, which is a sad story that keeps repeating itself.

Q. What is your favorite destination?

A. I have two favorite spots. One is Ouidah, the village where my family comes from in Benin. It holds a lot of history as it is a place where many of the slaves left the continent, but it is also very alive with culture and music. We even have the only contemporary art museum in Sub Saharian Africa. The other one is GoldenEye Hotel and Resort in Jamaica. It is the perfect spot to relax and get inspired. It is not far from Montego Bay and is situated between a lagoon and the sea. The owner, Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records), discovered me in Paris. He has been able to recreate the spirit of Island Records in a hotel. That is just magical.

Q. To someone who was going there for the first time, what would you recommend that they do during their visit?

A. In Ouidah, I would recommend visiting the enormous beach and the “Porte Du Non Retour,” a monument dedicated to the slaves who left Africa. But you also have to visit the Temple of the Python, a traditional landmark, which showcases how alive and vibrant our culture is there.

Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?

A. My first trip was going to Nigeria with my mom for a wedding. I was two months old. The story goes that I had a fever and would keep on crying to the point that my mom got scared and came back to Benin. As soon as I came home and went into my father’s arms, I stopped crying and my fever disappeared. You can understand that my mother was pretty upset. I had just spoiled her trip!

Q. Where is the most romantic destination?

A. I love Rome. I had a chance to perform in a play for a couple of weeks there and was able to discover the whole city thoroughly. I walked all over the city hand in hand with my husband. You see more than 2,000 years of history in such a beautiful setting. Also, the food is amazing!

Q. What are your five favorite cities?

A. New Orleans. This city is so amazing, because the African roots of the music are very present. Jazz Fest is one of the best music festivals. I also have a weakness for crawfish!

Salvador de Bahia (Brazil). This is a dream place for musicians. The music is present at every corner with the amazing tradition of the samba reggae and axe. Bahia has been so important in the history of Brazilian music. Many artists like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso come from there.

Rome. But I already spoke about this one.

Cotonou (Benin). This is a fun city, because of its people and the kindness and goodwill. But maybe I am a little bit biased. One warning: If you go there, taxi drivers will want to show you the Angelique Kidjo house on the road to Benin. It is just an urban legend. I never owned a house there, but it has become a landmark that people now use to give directions!

Paris. I started my career there, so I have many memories and a bunch of friends. There is a true love for African music there and when I started to sing in small clubs the audience reacted positively. I just hope this passion stays alive. It is important to keep on listening to diverse music.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. I always travel with a lot of stuff. My husband is always complaining that the suitcases are too heavy. I have all kinds of creams. I also always carry a small smart device that allows me to check the weight of my suitcases. That is very useful for me so I don’t have problems at the airports.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. Truthfully, I don’t get a chance to have weekend getaways in my line of work. You generally have to perform during the weekend so forget about planning a getaway for then! This is not a problem for me as I love being on stage. In a way this is my true home.

Q. Where do you call home?

A. I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It is such a great neighborhood. When I come back from my tours it is very relaxing and far from the noise of Manhattan. It’s also very close to a fantastic park: Prospect Park. It was designed by the same architects as Central Park but is much more natural.

© 2016 JAE-HA KIM


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