by Alison Hird
Article published on the 2010-02-12 Latest update 2010-02-12 17:31 TU
Today’s World Tracks guests have chosen to live out of Africa but celebrate its native languages and defend their right to move and groove with the times.
Never one to mince her words, she pre-empted any complaints about her venturing once again into the world of funk and pop, saying she wasn’t taking lessons from anybody and certainly wasn’t treading on other people’s territory.
If anything, “they’re the ones coming into mine”, she said in reference to doing cover versions of songsters like Curtis Mayfield (Move on up) or James Brown (Cold sweat) on her latest album. After all, such music has its roots in Africa.
Three years after the Grammy-winning Djin Djin, Kidjo has released Oyo (Beauty).
It consists largely of covers of the male and female idols of her childhood: Bella Bellow, Miriam Makeba, Aretha Franklin, Carlos Santana, Curtis Mayfield … Kidjo revisits the R&B, soul, jazz but also traditional Benin melodies that inspired her when she was young and helped make her one of the most renowned African singers in the world today.
As on Djin Djin (2007) where she performed duets with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Alicia Keys, Kidjo continues to collaborate with a fine crop of talent. Her guest musicians on Oyo are Roy Hargrove, John Legend and Diane Reeves.
Now 49, her voice is as remarkable as ever. Soft and clear and as a bell on Sidney Bechet’s Petite Fleur - one of her father’s favourites -and Santana’s Samba Pa Ti, which she sings with great feeling in Yoruba.
When she belts out Curtis Mayfield’s Move on Up - and adds her own call to Africa in the refrain - you feel the force not just of her voice but the woman that has become a goodwill ambassador for Unicef. While Mayfield wrote the song in the 60s for black youth in America’s ghettos, Kidjo told RFI she was dedicating it to young people in Africa and right around the world.
“They need to dream and we’re selling their dreams down the line,” she raged.
And it was the mistress of improvisation that shone when Kidjo got to performing Move on up live in RFI’s studios, alongside Bibi Tanga and the Selenites.
Bibi Tanga knows a thing or two about accompaniment. He started off as a saxophonist, even tap-dancer, before moving over to bass and vocals. He excels at both and is now a force to be reckoned with in his own right in a jazz/groove milieu not oversubscribed in France.
Born in Bangui, Central African Republic, he’s spent most of his life in France, with stints in the US, Germany and Russia alongside his diplomat father.
He soon got the vibe thanks to Bob Marley, James Brown, Sly and The Family Stone and Curtis Mayfield but also owes much inspiration to French song writing poets like Brassens, Brel and Ferré.
He cut his teeth on the Paris metro, before joining France’s most famous groove band the Malka family in 2000. With them he recorded his first album Le Vent qui souffle.
Tanga’s talents don’t stop at groove and he’s worked to great effect with DJ, producer and tables wizard Le Professeur Inlassable (the untiring professor). Together they made an acclaimed mix of hip hop, jazz, funk and gospel titled Yellow gauze in 2006. That allowed Tanga to give full vent to his myriad of different voices. The singer goes effortlessly from Mayfieldesque falsetto to the half-sung half-spoken poetry of a Gil Scott-Heron.
The duo has now become a five-piece band, Bibi Tanga and the Selenites (moon-dwellers). Their first album Dunya (Existence in Sango) comes from “the dark side of the moon” says Tanga.
Still strong on groove and funk rhythms, it pays homage in the soulful Gospel Singers and successfully ventures into rap-lite on Swing Swing. Three tracks, Bê Africa, Pasi and Dunya, are sung in Tanga’s native Sango language. Infused with Congolese rumba and Afrobeat, they’re pearls.
Angélique Kidjo Oyo (Naïve) 2010.
Bibi Tanga and the Selenites Dunya (Nat Geo music) 2010.
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