Fresh off her January 26th Grammy win, the fourth in her career, the Brooklyn-based Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo was getting ready for an all-star performance, dubbed “Daughter of Independence.” Scheduled for March 14th at Carnegie Hall, Kidjo was due to celebrate the 60th anniversary of her native Benin’s independence alongside her own upcoming 60th birthday. The lineup included Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, Senegal’s Baaba Maal, the Nigerian Afropop star Yemi Alade and the Cameroonian legend Manu Dibango.
That concert was cancelled soon after New York City Mayor de Blasio started calling for a “shelter in place,” with crowds barred and most of the city’s performance spaces closing out of precaution. On March 20th, Governor Cuomo held a press conference, announcing that he was putting New York “on pause” and that all non-essential workers should stay inside their homes at all times except for critical travel.
Like everyone else in New York, or in much of the world, Kidjo found herself having to work from home, as a “non-essential” worker. On March 24th, Manu Dibango, the author of the 1972 classic “Soul Makossa” died from COVID-19 and she paid tribute to him on Facebook, calling him “the original giant of African music.” Then Kidjo went into overdrive.
On March 28th, she recorded an acoustic version of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Ces Petits Riens” and a week later she created a home-made acoustic version of “Shekere” with Yemi Alade, which was released on Facebook and YouTube. The song, about the West African percussion instrument, came with a cheeky split-screen music video where both Alade and Kidjo could be seen in their Lagos and Brooklyn home studios, grooving to the sound of handmade rattles just as the #ShekereDanceChallenge started inspiring memes on the internet.
“I’m the only one at home!!!” 🏠 💃🏿 🎶 What do you do then? Record an home made acoustic duet of #Shekere thousand miles apart!!!#shekeredancechallenge
Posted by Angélique Kidjo on Sunday, April 5, 2020
Last week, for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, she performed during the Earth Day Live concerts that aimed “to bring a new generation of elected officials who understand the climate crises and who are prepared to take the necessary action to address it urgently.” The same week, she released her new recording of South African singer Miriam Makeba’s classic “Pata Pata” for UNICEF, which distributed the song on streaming platforms everywhere, encouraging listeners to post dance clips on Instagram and Tik Tok, along with the #nopatapata and #healthyathome hashtags.
As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Kidjo seized the moment by choosing to pay tribute to both Manu Dibango and Miriam Makeba, who was known as Mama Africa. “Manu inspired me. Miriam inspired me. And ‘Pata Pata’ gave me hope,” said Kidjo. “We all know what needs to be done, but we also know how much communities are suffering. ‘Pata Pata’ has always been there for people at a time of struggle. I hope it helps once more. And I hope from our confined spaces we can dance once more.”
UNICEF has asked me to sing a version of #MiriamMakeba ‘s Pata Pata with new lyrics to convey the #covid_19 health messages. The song will be broadcast on radios stations in Africa to people who don’t have access to regular media. ‘Pata Pata’ makes everyone want to show off their dance moves! So please film yourself dancing tagging @unicefafrica on Instagram or @1unicefafrica on TikTok with #nopatapata please. The best dance clips will make it into a UNICEF music video coming mid-May! You can find the full track here: https://uni.cf/PataPata #nopatapata #safehands#coronavirus@UNICEFAfrica #healthyathome
Posted by Angélique Kidjo on Thursday, April 23, 2020
Kidjo hasn’t given up on that March 14th performance either. Now that online music series are where it’s at, Kidjo has been rehearsing at home, because she will perform on April 28th, at 2pm EST, as part of the Live at Carnegie Hall series. For this newest musical moment, Kidjo is set to embrace West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk, and jazz, as well as influences from Europe and Latin America.