Home New York Report Performance Review: Angelique Kidjo pays tribute to Celia Cruz at Celebrate Brooklyn

Performance Review: Angelique Kidjo pays tribute to Celia Cruz at Celebrate Brooklyn


JULY 29, 2016

13680562_10154157606672529_8908378380970586550_nAngelique Kidjo paid tribute to Celia Cruz aka La Guarachera del Mundo last night at the Prospect Park bandshell in Brooklyn, as part of BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn series.

Joining her was the dynamic Pedrito Martinez, a consummate master of Afro-Cuban folkloric music and a first-call rumbero who plays, sings, dances and leads the Pedro Martinez Group.

The opener was The Yosvany Terry Quintet, whose music “has helped redefine jazz as a complex new idiom” (NY Times), featuring pianist Manuel Valera, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, bassist Yunior Terry, drummer Obed Calvaire and vocalist Jadele Mc Pherson.

Unbeknown to many, Terry and Kidjo share a cultural connection. Angelique is a native speaker of Fon, which is spoken in her native Benin. In 2014 Terry released New Throned King (5Passion), which features music based on cantos and rhythms of the Arará people of the western Cuban province of Matanzas, who hail from the Dahomey kingdom’s Fon culture in what is now Benin.

In short, the performance reflected the power and beauty of the Afro-Latin Connection. Angelique, who drew inspiration from Cruz as a child performed songs popularized by Cruz, including “Cucala,” Usted Abuso,” and “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” among others. And her interpretations of Celina Gonzalez’s Santa Barbara and the Afro-Peruvian tune, Toro Mata were breathtaking. This, while dancing, spinning like a top and joyously declaring Love, Unity and Mutual Respect for one and all.

Kidjo’s heartfelt, swinging tribute to Celia Cruz was one of the most powerful and uplifting performances of the year. Kudos to the many artists who lent their talents to the event and BRIC, a leading presenter of performances in Brooklyn.

As the audience filed out of the park the question on everyone’s mind was, “Might Kidjo record a tribute to Celia Cruz?” In a perfect world, the answer would be a resounding, “YES!”


Angélique Kidjo, (born July 14, 1960, Ouidah, Dahomey [now Benin]) Beninese popular singer, known for her collaborations with internationally prominent popular musicians and for her innovative blending of diverse musical styles.

Kidjo was born into a family of performing artists. Her father was a musician, and her mother worked as a choreographer and theatre director. At age six Kidjo began performing in her mother’s theatre troupe, and, as a teenager, she sang with her brothers in their rockrhythm-and-blues band. By age 20 she was a professional singer. She recorded her first album, Pretty, in 1988.

In 1983 Kidjo moved to Paris, where she encountered a vibrant musical community and myriad musical styles with which to experiment; in Paris she also met Jean Hebrail, the French producer, composer, and bassist whom she later married. Her first years in the city were spent studying jazz and performing with various local groups. After teaming with the Dutch pianist Jasper van ’t Hof, she sang with and cowrote songs for his jazz group, Pili-Pili.

After several years Kidjo left Pili-Pili and recorded Logozo (1991), which featured the American jazz musician Branford Marsalis and the African artists Manu Dibango and Ray Lema. With songs addressing issues of global concern—such as homelessness, the environment, freedom, and integration—Logozo was an international success. Kidjo increased her international appeal through her later releases, including Fifa (1995), in which she and more than 100 other musicians performed songs in English, Fon (her native language), Yoruba, and French.

Like her earlier releases, Kidjo’s subsequent albums were exercises in musical fusion, melding an array of genres, including jazz, hip-hop, zouk, Zairean rumba, samba, salsa, funk, gospel, Cameroonian makossa, and various Beninese traditions. Her sixth solo album, Black Ivory Soul (2002), was a dazzling excursion into Brazilian musical forms that deftly blended a Latin sound sensibility with traces of traditional West African rhythms. Oyaya! (2004) included a collaboration with American musician Dave Matthews, and Djin Djin (2007) featured numerous luminaries from the international popular music scene, including Peter Gabriel, Josh Groban, Carlos Santana, and others. Õÿö (2010) was an album of covers, and Spirit Rising (2012) was a collection of live tracks. Eve (2014), a tribute to African women largely sung in Beninese languages, won a Grammy Award for best world music album, as did Sings (2015), a collaboration with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Luxembourg.

In addition to her recording career, Kidjo was an outspoken advocate of education and health care for women and children. In 2002 UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) named her one of its goodwill ambassadors. She was elected one of four vice presidents of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (Confederation Internationale des Sociétés d’Auteurs et Compositeurs; CISAC) in 2013. Kidjo also released a memoir, Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music (2014). (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica. Profile by Shanda Siler). 

Photo: http://ayeonline.org

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject.


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