Kidjo’s Charisma Inspires All-Concert Dance Party

Ava Bravata-Keating

Beninese singer-activist Angélique Kidjo must have set a record — barely 15 minutes into her performance, everyone in the audience was on their feet dancing. More surprisingly, this feat was accomplished in Finney Chapel, a formal venue with full seating accustomed to classical music concerts and distinguished convocation speakers.


With her multi-national band in tow, Kidjo emerged on stage dressed in an attention-grabbing ensemble of a multicolored dress with a matching headdress and sparkly tights. Needless to say, Kidjo commanded the stage, and Oberlin was not the first to notice this Grammy Award winner’s dazzling presence. The singer has received numerous accolades: Time dubbed her “Africa’s premier diva” while the Guardian placed her on its list of the “Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World.” The list goes on, and with all these titles comes responsibility, according to Kidjo. “It puts more pressure on me to be better all the time. Everything I say, everything I do, it has to be done properly.”


Born Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, she is fluent in Fon, French, Yorùbá and English. Growing up, she created her own personal language in order to claim individuality as the seventh of ten children. Batonga, a word from this tongue, serves as a title for one of her songs, as well as the name of her foundation that promotes education for girls in Africa.


Kidjo crooned melodies that spanned genres, though much of the music she performed could be classified as “Afro-pop.” Her songs were sung in all of the aforementioned languages, including the Africa-wide anthem “Malaika,” meaning “angel” in Swahili. Kidjo’s two percussionists gave the majority of her songs a driving, dance-worthy beat. Meanwhile, her voice was a major highlight of the performance. Sometimes she would pull back with a serenading ballad. Other times, she would wow her audience with her voice by singing completely a cappella or dropping the mic away from her mouth and relying completely on the natural projection of her voice. She gave a versatile performance in terms of style and genre, but all of her music had one thing in common: engulfing vocals that were commanding, yet nuanced. It seemed fitting that such a voice matched her magnetic stage presence, as the two played into each other.


Kidjo’s singing voice is undeniably powerful. It clearly draws from a mixture of innate talent and charismatic spirit. But perhaps even more powerful is Kidjo’s graceful marriage of singing and activism. She opened the majority of her songs with some sort of dedication, such as, “Women have been the backbone of [Africa] for centuries. But women and children are the first victims. They don’t get to sit at the United Nation’s table with the men come peace negotiations.” She spoke often of Africa’s youth, declaring, “Let the younger generation dream big!” and “A teenager is not ready to start a family. Who will get her out of this misery? No silence, we have to protect our children and speak up,” and “No little girl goes to bed with tears in her eyes due to rape, domestic abuse.” The audience applauded and cheered both before and after her songs.


Kidjo was utterly confident in her ability to get her audience up and moving. Motioning to the first pew, she declared, “Pretty soon we all will be up dancing.” In between her second and third songs, she demanded, “Those benches and chairs; forget them!” Her predictive powers proved spot-on because for the last third of Kidjo’s performance, audience members were up on their feet, turning the chapel into a pulsating dance floor. She even came down into the aisles, high-fiving everyone within reach. After she had meandered through the crowd, performing melodic gymnastics all the while, she invited the spectators onstage to dance with her. Her band must have jammed for twenty minutes straight as the audience members took center stage, dancing their hearts out. The picture of artist sharing the stage with her audience highlighted the philosophy of Kidjo’s entire performance, that a single musician is less important than the power music has to transform.