Angélique Kidjo was born in Cotonou, Benin, but like many modern African artists, she's gone her own way, using traditional music to forge her own personal hybrid of African, European, and American pop. On this album Kidjo pays tribute to the people who inspired her career, including her mother, Miriam Makeba, and American R&B artists like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Otis Redding. And while the tunes Kidjo tackles may be familiar, her arrangements turn them inside out and shed new light on their African roots. "Cold Sweat" gets a take that salutes the Afro-beat of Fela Kuti, who used Brown's funk for his own music. The rhythm-heavy track swings like mad, with Kidjo's powerful vocal climbing the scale and weaving in and around the backbeat. She bases her version of "Mbube" (better known in the U.S. as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight") on the singing of Makeba, and uses the original Zulu lyrics. A simple acoustic guitar and percussion arrangement gives Kidjo room to show off her impressive range and emotional skill. Kidjo used to make up words to the American songs she couldn't understand, and sings Yoruba lyrics to Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember." Its Memphis-meets-Cotonou approach is intensified by the female backing vocalists and Kidjo's wailing high end. Bollywood tunes were also a big part of Kidjo's upbringing. On "Dil Main Chuppa Ke Pyar Ka," a hit by Mohammed Rafi, Steve Gorn drops a flute solo that recalls a Zulu pennywhistle into a Congolese rhythm track. Kidjo's originals include "Kelele," a sprightly highlife tune, and "Afia," a re-Africanized samba written with Brazilian guitarist Vinicius Cantuaria.
by j. poet