May 23rd 2023 was an amazing evening in Vinterträdgården at Grand Hotel in Stockholm.
Angélique Kidjo received the prize from the hands of HM King Carl XVI Gustaf and was honored by a specially arranged version of ”Choose Love” from the Mother Nature album by Lisa Ekdahl and internationally acclaimed instrumentalist Ibrahim Maalouf, together with The Polar Music Prize band led by Stefan Olsson.
The Polar Music Prize band featured:
Stefan Olsson – Musical Director & Guitar
Andreas Unge – Bass
Rasmus Lindelöw – Keyboards
Thomas de Paula Eby – Percussion
Anders Hedlund – Drums
Audrey Gbaguidi – Backup vocals
Mary N’Diaye – Backup vocals
Prince Mpedzisi – Backup Vocals
HM King Carl XVI Gustaf and Angélique Kidjo
In her thank you speech Angelique Kidjo said: “I started my career at the age of six when my dear mother shoved me on stage in front of a live audience. I was so scared that I could feel my whole skeleton shaking. But the audience started to laugh and clap. It made me feel good, it made me feel at home. Since that day I haven’t left the stage!”
The banquet opened with ”Agolo” and Angélique herself surprised artist Ysee by joining her on stage. Joshua Idehen also honored Angéliques cover album Remain in light by doing his own version of Talking Heads’ ”Once in a lifetime.”, making the whole Vinterträdgården dance!
Thank you for the joy, the warmth and the music, Angélique!
More photos and clips from the evening on Flickr and Youtube.
I would sit and watch the LP covers and make a whole world of it, how the music was created, what it meant?
– Angélique Kidjo on childhood and music
Angélique Kidjo was born in 1960 into a large family with 10 children and grew up in Cotonou in Benin. She was raised within two cultures, her mother came from the Yoruba people, mostly inhabiting parts of Nigeria, Benin and Togo. Her father was Fon, the larger tribe in southern part of Benin. Angélique grew up in a richness of culture mixing music, theatre and sports, her parents urged her to practice all three of them.
Legends of Benin
The Kidjo family (Source: Courtesy of Angélique Kidjo, © All rights reserved)
She was exposed to all kinds of music: traditional music that has always been her compass, but also blues, rock, afrobeat, soul…Her brother listened to Jimi Hendrix, which revealed rock music to her and the afro american descendency across the Atlantic.
(Source: courtesy of A. Kidjo © All rights reserved)
Les Sphinx, her first band at school, had a national radio hit with Miriam Makeba’s song "Les Trois Z". At 20, she flew to Paris for the first time to record with Cameroonian singer and producer Ekambi Brillant, and her brother Oscar Kidjo as co-producer. Her debut album "Pretty" became a huge success in the Western parts of Africa.
Album cover "Pretty", 1980.
Live poster in Lomé, Togo, 1980
Angélique moved to Paris in 1981 due to political conflicts. The communist regime in Benin at the time wouldn't truly allow her to express herself as an independent artist.
Recording Studio Davout, Paris XVII, in 2017 (after it closed)
Paris in the 80s was bubblying with music influenced by immigrants and former colonies. In Paris, African music, which had been relatively neglected until the 1970s, now began to gain huge popularity. The French capital soon became a buzzing hub of the world music industry, supported by a lively network of record stores, labels, cafés, concert venues, nightclubs and recording studios.
Artists such as Manu Dibango, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangaré and Angélique Kidjo gathered in Paris and participated actively to this development. African culture and music were notably present in the 18e arrondissements in Paris, in the Barbès and La Goutte d'or areas, in clubs and concert halls like Le Châlet du lac, La main bleue and Le New Morning, and the Davout recording studios contributed to la sono mondiale's soundtrack.
African influences gathering in Paris
Angélique in Paris (Source: Courtesy of A. Kidjo © All rights reserved)
Angélique Kidjo initially planned to become a human rights lawyer, but ended up studying music. While working various day jobs to pay for her tuition, Kidjo studied music at the CIM, a reputable jazz school in Paris, where she met musician and producer Jean Hébrail. Angélique and Jean have composed most of Angélique's music. They got married in 1987.
Angélique Kidjo & Jean Hébrail (Source: Courtesy of A. Kidjo © All rights reserved)
She started out as a backup singer in local bands and became the front singer in Euro-African jazz/rock band Jasper van't Hof's Pili Pili. Three Pili Pili studio albums followed: Jakko (1987), Be In Two Minds (1988, produced by Marlon Klein) and Hotel Babo (1990). By the end of the 1980s, she had become one of the most popular live performers in Paris and recorded a solo album called Parakou for the Open Jazz Label.
She then met Island Records founder Chris Blackwell in the beginning of the 90s (also her fellow Polar Music Prize Laureate in 2023).
Be in two minds
Angélique and Jasper van't Hof
Chris Blackwell signed Angélique Kidjo in 1991. The first release was album Logozo which put Kidjo on the international music scene. They would collaborate on five albums between 1991 and 1998.
Debut album Logozo featured Manu Dibango and Branford Marsalis on saxophones.
Aye from 1994, featuring major break through single Agolo
"Batonga" music video
Angélique Kidjo has always throughout her career used her voice for activism and social matters, mostly to support women and children. She became a goodwill ambassador for the UN in 2001, a mission she carries with pride.
Dedicating her ambitious 2014 album Eve to the resilience of women in Africa, Kidjo traveled around the continent capturing field recordings of women singing which she then incorporated into the album's songs. The album topped Billboard's World Music charts and earned her another Grammy Award for Best World Music Album.
Angélique Kidjo talks to bloggers behind-the-scenes at the Nutrition for Growth event today in London, 2013. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The African women all-stars premiered at the 50th Montreux Jazz Festival, an homage to the African women and to their musical creativity. Nigerian singer Asa, Dobet Gnaoré from Ivory Coast, Lura from Cabo Verde and the traditional Beninese band Trio Teriba joined Angelique on stage during this very special concert.
Interview with the original set up at the 50th Montreux Jazz Festival, 2016.
African women all-stars in Hamburg in March 2023.
"The language I sing in is always based on my inspiration."
– Angélique Kidjo, Polar Music Prize interview 2023
One of Angélique's characteristics as a performing artist is her international profile and capacity of singing in many different languages, crossing genres and borders.
The mix of cultures at home alongside a home welcoming people from around the world made the young Angélique open her eyes to the world very early. People would come from every part of the world, it was ”the united nation of languages” at home she says. Today she speaks and sings in a total of 11 languages, and is still learning new ones.
In conversation for the Polar Music Prize Laureates Kronos Quartet's "Fifty for the Future" composition
Performing "Blewu" in the West african Ewe language under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in front of the world leaders, to commemorate the WW1 centennial – and the African soldiers who died during the war.
An example of this diversity is the 2019 album Celia, a tribute to Cuban salsa queen Celia Cruz. Kidjo discovered Celia Cruz in the 70s when Cruz toured in Benin. And Cruz herself always highlighted the important influence of African music in her own career, and the musical meeting between them is obvious, with afrobeats, Ethiopian jazz and Senegalese funk.
In January 2014, the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg performed the premiere of the Ifé, the cycle of songs Philip Glass composed for Angélique.
In 2018 she released her own take on the Talking Heads mythical album "Remain in light."
Three Ifè songs with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, composed by Philip Glass.
Angélique Kidjo's "Remain in light."
Singing with Polar Music Prize Laureate of 2002, Miriam Makeba
Angélique Kidjo founded Batonga in 2006, after a trip with UNICEF. “Batonga” is a word she invented herself as a child in school, as a response to thos who thought young girls shouldn’t go to school. It means more or less “get off my back.”
The foundation’s primary mission is to “to equip the hardest-to-reach girls and young women with knowledge and skills to be agents of change in their own lives and communities.” So it is not only sending them to school, but give them the possibility to stay there and create an independent future for themselves.
The foundation started with scholarships for poor kids, tutoring, mentoring, providing one meal a day, books and uniforms in Benin, Cameroun, Ethiopia, Mali, Sierra Leone. It has evolved into research and mapping the challenges to stay in school, encourage girls and young women to start businesses and thrive, helping with funds and investments. And of course – empower young women to do music.
Header photo by Brantley Guttierrez.
All pictures from the ceremony and the banquet by Annika Berglund, © Polar Music Prize.
Article written in March & May 2023. Sources: kidjo.com, allmusic.com, Wikipedia, Youtube.