Angélique Kidjo
Remain In Light (8 June 2018)

Angelique Kidjo — Remain In Light (8 June 2018)

 Angélique Kidjo — Remain In Light (8 June 2018)   Angelique Kidjo — Remain In Light (8 June 2018)♠      Angélique Kidjo, the three time Grammy Award winner and singer / songwriter / activist who combines “village traditions,” “cosmopolitan transformations” and “female solidarity” (The New York Times), has been named the 2018 Harvard University Jazz Master. Has been named the 2018 Harvard University Jazz Master. She performed for her “Ashé Mama Afrika” concert curated by Yosvany Terry with the Harvard Jazz Bands on Friday, April 13 at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. The concert was sponsored by the Office for the Arts at Harvard and Harvard Jazz Bands (Yosvany Terry and Mark Olson, conductors).
♠      Angélique Kidjo is one of the greatest artists in international music today, a creative force with thirteen albums to her name.
♠      “The audience gives me energy, so I have to give it back. If I kept it, I wouldn’t be able to sleep for two days.” — ANGELIQUE KIDJO
Location: Benin, Africa ~ New York, NY
Style: World Music
Album release: 8 June 2018
Record Label: Kravenwork Records
Duration:     36:45
01 Born Under Punches     3:50
02 Crosseyed and Painless     5:29
03 The Great Curve     4:09
04 Once in a Lifetime     5:49
05 Houses in Motion     4:33
06 Seen and Not Seen     3:04
07 Listening Wind     6:02
08 The Overload     3:29
♠      Angélique Kidjo has partnered with super producer Jeff Bhasker (Rihanna, Kanye West, Harry Styles, Bruno Mars, Drake, Jay~Z) to create ‘Remain In Light’ — a new project that finds the Benin~born artist reclaiming rock for Africa, bringing the Talking Heads’ landmark 1980 album full circle.  The record is a track~by~track re~imagination of the original, considered to be one of the greatest albums of the ‘80s and deeply influenced by music from West Africa, notably Fela Kuti’s afrobeat.  With her version of ‘Remain In Light’ (out June 8/Kravenworks Records), Angélique celebrates the genius of Talking Heads, Brian Eno and the touchstones that made the original so revered and injects it with her euphoric singing, explosive percussion, horn orchestrations, and select lyrics performed in languages from her home country.
♠      ‘Remain In Light’ features appearances by Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, Blood Orange, Tony Allen, Angelique’s longtime guitarist Dominic James, and Magatte Sow (percussionist for the ‘Black Panther’ film score). Visual artist Kerry James Marshall collaborated on the album artwork.
♠      This album is the culmination of Angélique’s deep~rooted love and respect for the original: she performed it in full at Carnegie Hall last year to raves (with the New York Times declaring, “Ms. Kidjo isn’t toppling an icon; she is dancing on its heights”) and was joined by David Byrne on stage. She also performed it at Bonnaroo.
Written by Mark Ray4 June, 2018; Score: ****½
♠      Talking Heads’ eighties classic,  Remain In Light,  gets re~imagined and paid homage to.
♠      Rock music wasn’t born in Tupelo in 1935 to white parents, but the rhythms came from Africa, borne across the seas on slave ships, in the holds of shit, sweat, disease and death, to form the cadences of blues and rock and roll. What Elvis did, by channelling the rebellion and sexuality of rock, though shocking to middle America, was something no black man would ever have been allowed to do in the 50s. When Angélique Kidjo — three~time Grammy winner and named by The Guardian as one of its ‘Most Inspiring Women in the World’ — made her own journey out of Africa, in this case escaping the Communist regime of Benin, to France in 1983, she was like a kid in a candy store when entering record shops, because Western music was banned in her homeland. But there was one record that stood out for her: Talking Heads Remain In Light. Kidjo recognised, and delighted in, the rhythms of Africa that she heard so blatantly on the tracks, and yet her peers at the jazz school she attended would laugh at her, telling her it wasn’t African, that the music was too sophisticated for her to understand. But she held her tongue and kept the record close to her heart. Now she has taken that inspirational record and returned it to its roots, or, perhaps, opened up the African rhythms more explicitly.
♠      “As ‘Remain In Light’ was influenced by the music of my continent, I want to pay back the homage and create my own African take on Talking Heads’ songs,” says Angélique. “We all know that rock music came from the blues and thus from Africa. Now is the time to bring rock back to Africa, connect our minds, and bring all our sounds to a new level of sharing and understanding.”
♠      What Kidjo has done, and producer Jeff Bhasker, is create an inspirational, inspiring piece of work that makes us look at our Western musical legacy in a new light with a texture and mosaic of sounds, a deep lush rhythm and an African guitar that sounds like sun dripping like honey over a broken beautiful land.
♠      Remain In Light opens with Born Under Punches and a single chanting voice. The deep and myriad rhythms kick in and weave a spell, creating a kaleidoscopic music of the ages. The voice is powerful, anger controlled, aimed in the right direction. It becomes a freedom song, a song of individual freedom under the government man. This sets a trope for Kudjo, who makes the songs urgently relevant and brings in contemporary issues and concerns. This is done often more by emphasis than any lyrical tampering.
♠      On Crosseyed and Painless, with its dramatic beats sounding almost like a Bond movie theme, she addresses the negative perception of Africa in the media and in the mouth of the President of the United States. How more apt are Byrne’s lines today, with all the fear around fake news: Facts all come with points of view, Facts don’t do what I want them to, Facts just twist the truth around, Facts are living turned inside out, Facts are getting the best of them.
♠      Kudjo address the mistreatment of Mother Earth on The Great Curve. There is a relentless drum beat, creating an urgency as though time is running out like the final drops of water in a parched land. The words are spoken like a sacrament to the earth.
♠      Perhaps the best known song on the album, Once In A Lifetime, which is a quirky, metaphysical song, becomes a song about people’s basic right to live. Kudjo makes it a song not about materialism, but about the dignity of life. And when she sings “Same as it ever was” it has a more profound meaning than when Byrne sang it, for this is the black diaspora experience speaking: and it’s the same as it ever was.
♠      Houses In Motion is jazz tinged, with a noir themed feeling. There is a sense of obsession, of someone doing whatever it takes to survive in a world where they are surrounded by the signs of mortality. On Seen Not Seen, what was a song about an individual believing they can change their appearance into a cinema star, a magazine star, just by an act of will, becomes a sad lament on African girls who bleach their skin to look more Caucasian.
♠      Listening Wind, originally about Native Americans, becomes a story about the after effects of slavery, and the white invasion of Africa. The wind in my heart sung about here is the African wind that blows across a continent bathed in chains and blood. A land and people exploited. It becomes an even more poignant song, a lament that questions what is terrorism and what are freedom fighters. It’s a track streamed with tears, pain and, finally, a raised fist of resistance.
♠      The album ends with the understated The Overload. It starts with the vocal to the fore and the music is sparse with deep electronic music, suffused with an undercurrent of guitars and drums which are light and joyful. The background vocals sing “Don’t forget the legacy of our ancestors” in the Yoruba language. It’s a comment on how technology has replaced the idea of humanity and our ability to reach out to each other on a purely human way. It’s a quiet, thoughtful end to the album.
♠      When Talking Heads released Remain in Light in 1980 it was greeted with almost universal critical acclaim and is today considered one of the greatest albums of the 80s. These are songs that are known so well, been discussed, re~played, examined a thousand times over, so it is a brave person who decides to re~interpret the album. It is to Kidjo’s immense credit, and genius and pure heart, that she makes us hear this album in a new light, with new ears. But, maybe, mostly, we feel her love for the music that so inspired her and reminded her of home when she first heard it in France.
By Beverly Bryan  |  June 11, 2018  |  10:43am  |  Score: 8.1
♠      There is something supremely satisfying about Angelique Kidjo’s reimagining of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, both in concept and execution. On the surface, it is simply one great artist — a giant and innovator of Afropop — paying tribute to one of new wave’s foundational bands. But it is also a response, almost 40 years later, from one of African music’s foremost living representatives to a landmark album deeply indebted to Afrobeat rhythms, and it has to be listened to as such.
♠      One of the things that makes the album so satisfying is that it reverses the usual direction of borrowing, reinterpretation and the receipt of accolades for the same. It reverses the gaze of the global north, treating us to the adventure of Benin~born Kidjo exploring the Africa of Talking Heads and Remain in Light producer Brian Eno’s imagination.
♠      With assistance from Jeff Bhasker, who has produced for Kanye West, Drake and Rihanna, each song is completely redesigned. That the freaked~out polyrhythmic new~wave trip of Remain in Light was inspired in part by Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat would not be immediately obvious to every listener. But, to her credit, as Kidjo told Rolling Stone, she recognized the African bones in the album’s left~field grooves the first time she heard it many years ago. In making this record, she and her all~star crew (including Devonté Hynes, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and Fela’s drummer and musical director Tony Allen) excavate its skeletal polyrhythms, put new instrumental flesh (both acoustic and electronic, traditional and modern) on them and repatriate them. In some cases, the beats have been tinkered with to the point of being unrecognizable, which is a delight, and new lyrics, some of them in African languages such as the Beninese language Fon, have been introduced.
♠      “Once in a Lifetime,” with its playful horns and piles of polyrhythms, is especially gratifying, as it would have to be. It builds on the ecstatic existential wonder of the original and cleverly reinvents it as a bubbly Afro~Jazz workout, one that creates space for toying with the words and releases the tension of the original into the stratosphere. Most of the songs on the album have a buoyancy that surpasses the originals. In many cases, this follows naturally from the use of heavier and hotter rhythm parts, as on the boiling “Crosseyed and Painless.” The spidery, skittering funk of “The Great Curve” puts on weight and rolls with greater fluidity, until the song seems to “move on a woman’s hips,” as the lyrics say, making it more solidly an homage to the divine feminine.
♠      In every case, the main factor is Kidjo’s seasoned vocals, world~class instrument and effulgent personality. Where Byrne’s emotive spectrum on Remain in Light ranges from anxious to deadpan and detached, Kidjo pours a rainbow of emotion, conviction and new layers of meaning into the original’s evocative, blank verse lyrics. She makes these often free~associative words into her stories, into African stories. “Born Under Punches” takes on a theme of government corruption when the backup singers call out “Don’t play with fire” in Fon. The original version of “Listening Wind,” which tells the story of Mojique, a young man angry at the foreigners flooding into his country who fights back by setting bombs in a “free trade zone,” is haunted and tinged with anger. But in Kidjo’s hands it becomes charged with shivery power and electricity. She conjures a storm just with her voice.
♠      One of the record’s most stunning moments is when Kidjo interpolates Fela’s famous “She go say, I be lady o” refrain from “Lady,” which she has previously covered, into “Crosseyed and Painless.” It’s an almost postmodern move, bringing in a bit of Remain In Light’s inspiration to further elucidate the debt that the album owes to the taut, muscular jams emerging from Africa. It’s something more and better even than a magnanimous tip of the hat. Like Talking Heads in 1980, Kidjo is faithfully following her muse in search of transcendence. Here she’s found a rich source of it, like water flowing underground. ♠

Angelique Kidjo
Remain In Light (8 June 2018)