A powerful singer and tireless performer, Angelique Kidjo has been one of the most successful performers to emerge on world music stages in the 1990s and 2000s. Her music not only draws from African traditions but also interprets the ways those traditions developed after Africans were seized and taken to the New World. Thus elements of American soul, funk, rap, and jazz, Brazilian samba, Jamaican reggae, and Cuban and Puerto Rican salsa all show up on her recordings, along with various African styles
Kidjo is a native of Benin, on Africa's Atlantic coast adjacent to Nigeria; the first of her eight languages was Fon. She was born in the coastal city of Ouidah on July 14, 1960, to government postal official Franck Kidjo (an enthusiastic photographer and banjo player on the side) and his choreographer wife Yvonne. Kidjo was lucky enough to have parents who backed her performing ambitions--female popular vocalists are rare in many African countries. Among her eight siblings were several brothers who started a band when she was young, inspired by James Brown and other American stars who flooded Benin's airwaves. Kidjo was musically eclectic from the start, listening avidly to juju sounds from neighboring Nigeria, to pop music from other African countries, to Cuban salsa music. But, her firsr love was the traditional music which she grew up with.
Kidjo made her stage debut at age six with her mother's dance troupe, and in the late 1970s she formed a band of her own and recorded an album that featured a cover version of a song by another of Kidjo's idols, South African singer Miriam Makeba. In 1980, however, Kidjo found her musical activities restricted by a New Leftist regime that took power in Benin and tried to force her to record political anthems. Kidjo fled to Paris in 1983 with the intent of studying law there and becoming a human rights lawyer. But she realized that she was not cut out for political life.