So I’m riding the train in to work on Friday and my daughter texts me and says she’s got an extra ticket to Angélique Kidjo at Somerville Theater that night and did I want to go? Let’s see, long work week, tired, my car’s 25 miles away at the train station….but some things you don’t turn down – your daughter invites you to a concert, you go!
Angélique Kidjo is a Grammy award-winning Benin-born African pop diva, and her music covers everything from traditional African music to smokey jazz that would feel right at home in a Paris nightclub to Brazilian-sounding funk. The show reminded me why I love African pop music, and why it’s so important to see it live. The energy in the show is absolutely not captured on her studio recordings, great as they are. Plus – you can’t see her dance on the cd! For two solid hours Angélique danced through every song, and I don’t think she repeated a dance move the entire night – she has more moves than a human should be allowed to have! The other reason to see African music live is that they all dance – and the audience participates in a way that western musicians usually don’t encourage. Angélique roamed both aisles up and down both ways during one song, weaving her way through the crowd. Towards the end, she invited the audience up on stage to dance while she sang – “first come first serve, it’s kind of crowded up here!”. By the end of the song, she had 40 people on stage, everything from six year olds to sixty year olds, professors and students and football players up on the stage dancing.
She started off the show with a traditional song she grew up singing, accompanied by a rhythmic clapping. I was completely unable to clap along with the rhythm – it was totally foreign to someone who grew up on Bach and Led Zeppelin – completely irregular, and yet she repeated the rhythm over and over again, so it had an internal logic for her. One of the other things I love about African music is that it is completely accessible, and yet the melodies always move in unexpected directions. One of the things I love about travel to foreign countries is that it challenges your assumptions, and African music has that same effect – you have to *listen* because it doesn’t do what you expect.