aThis weekend, members of three Yale musical ensembles will have the chance to perform with a Grammy Award-winning artist.
Singer, author and women’s rights activist Angélique Kidjo will be doing a benefit concert for the Yale Africa Initiative Student Scholarship with members of the Yale Concert Band, Yale Percussion and Shades this Saturday. Kidjo is scheduled to perform five of her songs with various combinations of the ensembles that will accompany her. Yale Concert Band Director Thomas Duffy highlighted the diversity of musical influences that is reflected in Kidjo’s music, adding that the concert will be a rare opportunity for Yale student musicians to perform with a widely renowned artist.
“This is a world-class figure, the Bob Dylan of Africa” Duffy said.
Though the concert program has not been finalized, Duffy noted, the groups’ current plan is to perform five songs: “Agolo,” “Awolale,” “Malaika,” “Tumba” and “Afrika.” He explained that the first rehearsal for the concert will be held tomorrow, and it is possible that Kidjo or the musicians will decide to alter the program. Eugene Kim ’16, president of the Yale Concert Band, said he thinks the show will be unique because while the Yale Concert Band and Yale Percussion are familiar with music of the African diaspora, the groups rarely accompany vocalists.
Duffy said he believes Kidjo is a unique artist because her work is a hybrid of the African music she grew up with, the French influences she acquired during her training in France and the western pop she has been exposed to since her rise to prominence within the music industry. Kidjo is known for being able to sing in four languages: English, French, Yoruba and Fon.
Kidjo has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002 and is the founder of the Batonga Foundation, which promotes secondary and higher education for women. Robert van Sice, director of the Yale Percussion Group, said he respects the way in which Kidjo uses her fame as a platform for advocating social reform. Duffy noted that Kidjo’s latest musical album was about struggles that African women face. She wants to do this benefit concert because she wants to work with students and get them involved in the cause, Duffy added.
Members of the ensembles performing in the concert also highlighted the element of social activism in Kidjo’s music. Kim said he thinks that socially conscious music adds new ways in which artists can engage with audiences beyond a purely musical level.
Kim and other members of the two featured instrumental ensembles noted that the causes that Kidjo promotes particularly resonate with these groups because several of their members traveled to Ghana last May to plant trees, install water filters and make recordings of traditional African music performances. Shades business manager Dianne Lake ’16 added that many of her group’s members participate in social advocacy groups on and off campus, so they are excited to be performing with an artist who is deeply involved with humanitarian work.
“[Kidjo] is a legend and an icon, a symbol of the talent and musical innovation radiating from the African continent,” Lake said.
Kidjo’s 2014 book is titled “Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music.”