Oyo - Angelique Kidjo

Beninoise, Angelique Kidjo; diminutive in body, giant in spirit, a force of nature in voice, it’s a wonder that UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador has any time to record a new album, but her ninth studio disc, Oyo hits the shelves in 2010. The Oyo Empire hit colonial explorers in West Africa with the largest, most powerful, self-rule state in the regions of modern day Nigeria and Benin during the 15th century. The empire was known for its cavalry and great wealth acquired through trade. It’s a strong metaphor for African self-sufficiency, something Angelique and many prominent African artists seek through philanthropy and their music. Oyo, the album makes its debut with the Curtis Mayfield single, Move On Up, which applies its message nicely to this cause, with help from urban and rock super-celebs, John Legend and Bono, respectively. Mr. Mayfield counts among Kidjo’s most influential voices in her own award-winning career, a theme that resounds throughout the CD. Another huge influence is The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who gets a voodoo rendering in duet with jazz maven, Dianne Reeves on Monfe Ran E (Baby, I Love You) a highlight among the tracks. The package wraps with a couple of bonuses including You Can Count On Me, the theme of UNICEF’s “Give The Gift Of Life” campaign to stamp out newborn tetanus. Unfortunately, Angelique’s other new cause-worthy tune, A Song For Everyone with Emmy-winning pop composer Peter Buffett (which is truly ear-catching) doesn’t appear here. That duet was written to draw attention to the need for girls’ education in Africa. You can stream it at http://www.peterbuffett.com/music/music-asongforeveryone.html or buy it at http://www.peterbuffett.com/store/index.html#singles/asongforeveryone. Over all, Ms. Kidjo tends to fall back on her signature Ziln wails and vocalese treatments without exploring much new territory on Oyo. To her credit though, she did so much of that exploration on her last trilogy of albums, which wrapped with the Grammy-winning disc, Djin Djin. It’s all classic Kidjo and it’s all good. It must be tricky for high-profile musician/philanthropists to balance their efforts. Indeed, music is a vehicle to effect positive change, but diluting the message through mass production and mass marketing can, unfortunately compromise the integrity of the cause.