A celebrity is commonly seen as “a person who is known for his well-knownness”. However, Angélique Kidjo is a celebrity in the original meaning of the term, celer: which has roots in change and of course, celebration. In other words, she is someone we celebrate because she transforms us, her work touches us both poetically and politically. Watching Kidjo perform – the real world, where women are subordinate to men – always feels distant to me. There is nothing subordinate about her, she is firm, articulate and glorious, and yet her voice also conveys a gentle soul, one passionate about justice. In this interview, we glimpse the two sides of Kidjo: the firm and the gentle.
ME: Many congratulations on your recent grammy award. It was a powerful moment not only for you but for all the African women you dedicated the award to. Thank you. I wonder, what does it mean for you to be an African woman in 2015?
KIDJO: I am so proud of my identity and I feel really lucky. People outside Africa don’t realize it but African culture is very rich, very diverse and it empowers you. So in a way, the culture of my continent, even though it is not easily visible in the mainstream media, carries me and help me shine on the world stage!
ME: What one thing do you wish that future generations of African girls and women succeed in doing that your generation has not?
KIDJO: Access to secondary and college education. A big push has been done on primary education which is already a big step but it is not enough. If we want the continent to succeed, we need highly educated women who will be able to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century.
ME: What advice, if any, would you give your younger self about life and love?
KIDJO: Don’t be careless and be true to the people who matter to you. A real relationship is based on integrity. Also your lover should be your friend too or the relationship won’t last! Don’t have prejudice against differences of culture and the color of the skin.
ME: If you were the ruler of your country, Benin, for one day what would you do?
KIDJO: I would vote a budget to rebuild all the infrastructures and road of Benin so people can circulate easily and build a healthy economy. I know that voting the budget is not enough: I would need a magic wand to make it happen in one day!
ME: From your music to your advocacy and activism to your writing and entrepreneurship, one of the things that strikes me about your work is the enthusiasm, professionalism and grace which you bring to it. As a high achiever and obviously busy woman, how do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
KIDJO: I think the support of my family has always been a crucial element in my professional and personal life since I started to sing as a young girl. Also you need to be passionate about your art even though it is not always successful. You need to love your art for what it is and not for the success and fame it might (or more often might not!) bring you. Imagine a singer that found success in a song he hates but have to sing it all of his life: that would be such a curse!