African Diva Kidjo Empowered By 'Bad Religion'

Grammy-winning singer Angelique Kidjo is considered Africa's greatest living diva. She says music is her outlet for pleasure and activism. Kidjo shares some of the songs that have inspired her over the years.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now is the time for the occasional feature we call In Your Ear. That's where our guests tell us about some of the songs that are on their personal playlists. Today we hear from a Grammy-winning singer Angelique Kidjo. She's considered one of the continent's greatest living divas. Her music is known around the world for its rhythm and message. She says music is her outlet for both creativity and activism. Kidjo stopped by our studios during her last concert tour to talk about her life and music, and she also shared the songs that have inspired her over the years.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO: Hi, this is Angelique Kidjo and right now this is what is playing in my ear.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY")

SHIRLEY CAESAR: (Singing) It might be the devil, it might be the Lord. You're gonna have to serve somebody. Serve somebody.

KIDJO: "You're Gonna Have to Serve Somebody" from Shirley Caesar is a song written by Bob Dylan. It means that whatever we do, we all have to serve somebody. It doesn't matter how powerful we are, how much money we have, what skin color we have, we have to serve somebody. We have to serve a purpose whatever we do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY")

CAESAR: (Singing) And since God gave me another name, I know I can walk again. You gotta serve somebody...

KIDJO: And the other song I've been listening to is from Frank Ocean called "Bad Religion."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD RELIGION")

FRANK OCEAN: (Singing) If it brings me to my knees, it's a bad religion.

KIDJO: It's very interesting, his way of approaching love, religion. And if religion's love brings you to your knees and you are in the position of not being empowered but being subdued, then it's bad. Anything that you do in a way that brings you not to achieve your potential is something that is not good for you and not good for anybody in this society, basically.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD RELIGION")

OCEAN: (Singing) To me it's nothing but a one-man cult and cyanide in my Styrofoam cup. I can never make him love me. Never make him love me. No. No. Oh. It's a, it's a bad religion to be in love with someone who could never love you. Oh, only bad, only bad religion could have me feeling the way I do.

KIDJO: And also songs that I've been listening to lately are from Ali Farka Toure because he has been gone for a while now. It's an album of reminiscence for me because I have the chance to have him actually home for dinner one or two months before he passed away. And for me it's really in this hard time, he's the one that I look up to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

ALI FARKA TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

KIDJO: And, of course, Miriam Makeba is always something that I listen to on a regular basis.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PATA PATA")

KIDJO: She has been my role model. I learned through her how to harmonize and how you can use your voice as a powerful tool to talk about things that are universal that touch everybody. I have "Pata Pata" in mind because it's a song that everybody knows, everybody sings to touch each other. And for me in this era of communication, we don't speak to each other much. The technology is a very good invention, but does it bring us more together or does it push us far away from each other?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PATA PATA")

MIRIAM MAKEBA: Every Friday and Saturday night, it's Pata Pata time.

MARTIN: That was Angelique Kidjo telling us what's playing in her ear. To hear our previous conversation with her, please go to the Program page of NPR.org and select TELL ME MORE. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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