In the midst of a busy week, I decided to take a break and go see Angelique Kidjo in concert. She’s a Grammy award winning singer from Benin to whom I was introduced by way of her song Batonga! back in the early 1990s while still in Ghana. I remember thinking back then that it was so different from the other African songs on the airwaves. I want to say it hit my family in the same year as Meiway’s Zoblazo, another song that we children took to with delight especially as it was in Nzema. Both were sure to get you moving.
Over the years, I have enjoyed a few of her other songs, and was delighted to find other admirers of her in college. In fact, my Wellesley sisters and I created a dance to Batonga for our African cultural show, and apparently a video of this is floating around somewhere. I do not want to see it!
I have since had the opportunity to see her perform at the Harvard Business School African Business Conference in 2008 where I realized she was really passionate about her social activism and quite ridiculously funny and full of life. She run, leaped, and jumped all over the stage that day. I was in awe. I gained so much respect and admiration for her there. That’s only when I realized how small she was and not at all a stereotypical African woman. Her feminist sounding pleas for a better African went straight to my heart. And way before Chimamanda Adichie, she was talking about the danger of the single story as it applies to Africa, although Adichie puts it in English way more eloquently.
Ms. Kidjo had been booked to perform in a theatre. You know, seats! I got to the venue, and I knew immediately, that this was not happening. If I had discovered anything about Ms. Kidjo from seeing her at Harvard, it was that audience participation was a MUST. She wasn’t going to be jumping all over the stage on her own and waiting for us to politely clap at her performance.
So I mused on how this was going to work with these theatre seats. And I looked around at the audience and thought, huh, wouldn’t have thought these old white (non-hipster) looking people would be Angelique Kidjo fans, but more importantly, were they going to get out of their seats and jump to the beat when commanded.
Ms. Kidjo did not disappoint. She was exactly what I needed on that harried weekday. Of course the audience took to staying in their seats and clapping ever so gently after each song, but that did not last long. By the end of the night, we were on our feet, jumping to the beat, belting out parts of her songs. And then she called for people to join her on stage. So out of character for me, I decided to get up there. Maybe it was the fact that I knew no-one there really, so who was I going to embarass on stage with my one way two-step dance – slowed or speeded up according to tempo? Each of us on stage got pulled by Ms. Kidjo to the center (yes, I thought of escaping right then and there) to have a solo dance with the drummer. I could sense my stiff body refusing to fully relax and follow the instructions of the drum but I did my best and by the time I left the theater I was on fire, re-energized, and happy.
Too bad I had to return to the doldrums of work the very next morning.