With 'Mother Nature,' Angelique Kidjo Passes The Torch To Young African Musicians The new album from singer Angélique Kidjo, Mother Nature, is a showcase of collaborations with up-and-coming artists from across Africa, including Nigerian star Burna Boy.

With 'Mother Nature,' Angelique Kidjo Passes The Torch To Young African Musicians

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In January of 2020, Angelique Kidjo took the stage at the Grammys to accept the award for best world music album. But her speech wasn't about herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANGELIQUE KIDJO: The new generations of artists coming from Africa are going to take you by storm. The time has come.

SHAPIRO: It was almost as if Kidjo, who is originally from Benin, was passing the torch to younger musicians across Africa. And now she's brought many of them together on a new album called "Mother Nature."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRED UP")

KIDJO: (Singing in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: When we talked, I asked whether this album, full of collaborations with young artists across Africa, is what she had in mind when she made that speech at the Grammys.

KIDJO: I wanted to prove it because, as I said, often talk is cheap. Action is expensive. Every corner of the continent, there are these youth hungry for something different. They want to have an impact in their own life, in their own community, family. They want to be reckoned with. Before, when I go to Africa, it's all about, how do I make this? I want to do like you. I want to do this. Now it's like, I'm doing it (laughter).

SHAPIRO: And how does that translate to the music that they're making?

KIDJO: The savviness of the creativity is out of this world. And what was really amazing for me doing this album was not only that I work with this young generation, but I'm working on all those songs with the young generation of producers, of beats, of sound, of recording that are coming from Africa.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about one of these collaborations. When you won that Grammy in 2020, you dedicated the award to Burna Boy, who was also nominated in that category. He's an up-and-coming Nigerian artist. Now he is on this new album. So tell us about the track where you two collaborated. It's called "Do Yourself."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOURSELF")

BURNA BOY: (Singing in non-English language).

KIDJO: (Singing in non-English language).

"Do Yourself" is a song that is written by Burna Boy because he said to me on the phone call, I'm going to write a song for you, Mom.

SHAPIRO: He calls you Mom.

KIDJO: Yeah. And I said, OK, go for it. And he send me the song. And if you had seen me in this studio, it was just like, mmm (ph). I was humming, jumping and dancing. I went crazy. I just - all of them, every time - if the song of Yemi came, Mr Eazi, Shungudzo - the song comes into the studio. The studio becomes, like, the best place on the planet to be for me.

SHAPIRO: It's like the club anybody would want to go to.

KIDJO: I'm telling you it's the climax of the world right here. And I'm like, yeah. And I got (unintelligible). I'm, like - I was crazy happy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOURSELF")

KIDJO: (Singing in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: The lyrics to so many of the songs are about issues that people are dealing with today, from climate change to state oppression and police violence. Can you tell us about the track "Dignity"?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIGNITY")

KIDJO: (Singing in non-English language).

The track "Dignity" was born out of the #EndSARS movement, when the police start shooting with real bullet.

SHAPIRO: This is in Nigeria in October of 2020. Yeah.

KIDJO: Yes.

SHAPIRO: SARS stands for Special Anti-Robbery Squad. This was a protest against a police unit. Yeah.

KIDJO: And brutality.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

KIDJO: And I started worrying because I have family in Nigeria, too, in Lagos and friends. And my first instinct - I don't know why. I sent a WhatsApp message to Yemi and said, are you safe? Where are you? How are you?

SHAPIRO: This is a collaboration with Yemi Alade, a Nigerian artist.

KIDJO: Absolutely. She called me and said, Ma, I'm afraid. They're shooting at us. They're killing us. And I said, well, let's reply with music. Our bullet is going to be music.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

KIDJO: Go back to the studio. I have a song that I wrote called "Dignity." Let's work on it together. So I sent her the song, and then in one week, she sent me her lyrics. And I have to tell you, listen to the lyrics. For a moment, I couldn't sing because it just took me by - I mean, I just, like...

SHAPIRO: You're clutching your throat as you talk. Yeah.

KIDJO: Because...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

KIDJO: Oh. If I had wanted to talk about that movement, there's no way I could find those words to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIGNITY")

KIDJO: (Singing in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: Those lyrics include, we come in peace, not in pieces, and, respect is reciprocal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIGNITY")

KIDJO: (Singing) Respect is reciprocal, is reciprocal. Respect is reciprocal.

SHAPIRO: It's such an interesting way of putting it. Our bullets will be music. Our bullets will be songs.

KIDJO: That's the best way. I don't believe in violence. Violence is the weapon of the coward. And every dictatorship, at the top of it, there's an insecurity and cowardness. Killing is easy. Sitting down and finding a solution together and discussing demand intelligence, compassion, empathy and understanding.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEANT FOR ME")

KIDJO: (Singing) Can you hear? Can you hear where the angels sing (ph)?

SHAPIRO: You have experience with this in your own life. As you were growing up, Benin was run by a communist dictatorship. Can you tell us about what it was like to start your artistic journey in that kind of an environment?

KIDJO: I was brought up by parents that believe that freedom is a responsibility, is a duty. And my father used to say to me, do not affiliate your music to any political party because they come and go. You want to be an artist.

SHAPIRO: But was there pressure to sing for a political party, to write songs in praise of...

KIDJO: Oh, yeah. That's what it is. That's what it was. First of all, what disappeared first was the variety of different music that was played on the radio. When you opened the radio before the communist dictatorship comes in, you can go from Paul Anka to Michael Jackson to everything. And then suddenly, you wake up in the morning. The first thing you hear is, ready for the revolution; the fights continue, in every different languages. And the musician, the bands in Benin was summoned by the government that every music that they play have to talk about the change they're bringing about, about the propaganda. I mean, I never did that, and I couldn't do it. It was too much for me to bear. I can't stay. So it took us a year to plan my leaving because I couldn't do it anymore.

SHAPIRO: And you moved to France when you were in your early 20s.

KIDJO: Yes.

SHAPIRO: When you look at the young African artists who you're working with today, do you think things have changed, that they don't have to move to a country like France in order to find the kind of success that you've had in your career?

KIDJO: That's a fact (laughter). Burna Boy has not - haven't moved nowhere. He's in Nigeria (laughter). Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi, Sampa the Great - and, I mean, the list goes on and on - they are entrepreneur and big star in their own right in their own country, making lots of money for themselves.

SHAPIRO: Do you feel a level of pride at having paved the way for them?

KIDJO: Oh, yes, because I always say if I could have the career that I have today, I am moving no way. There's nothing better than home because home is your sanctuary where people are - people love you and protect you and hold you and carry you and caress you. It's not somewhere out there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREE AND EQUAL")

KIDJO: (Vocalizing).

SHAPIRO: Angelique Kidjo, it is such a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you very much.

KIDJO: Thanks for inviting me. And play the music, and have fun with it.

SHAPIRO: Her new album is called "Mother Nature."

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