When Angelique Kidjo tells you to dance—or sing, or clap along, or all of the above—it’s not a request. It’s a command, and one backed by the full force of her regal presence, her powerful vocals and her elastic-tight band. It took the Princeton, N.J., crowd a few songs to comply, but once everyone was on their feet, the show was pure magic.
Kidjo’s reinvention of Talking Heads’ Remain In Light was the draw, and we were amply rewarded with a beautiful take on “Listening Wind,” a mesmerizing “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” and epic versions of “Once In A Lifetime” and “Burning Down The House.”
But the most engaging songs of the night weren’t originally by Talking Heads. It was Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata” that got the audience dancing, along with three of Kidjo’s own numbers that explored a range of emotions that transcended language. She introduced “Cauri” by calling attention to forced marriage, rape and unwanted pregnancy; took her first lap around the room while the audience sang the refrain of “Afirika”; and brought up dozens of fans for a dance party to “Tumba.”
Early in the show, Kidjo acknowledged that it was a difficult day because she’d missed her mother-in-law’s funeral, but said she also knew that as supportive as her mother-in-law had been, the best way to honor her was by keeping the music and the dancing lively.
Elsewhere in the set, Kidjo spoke about women’s rights, the futility of hate and our desire to connect with one another through music and culture. Her well-chosen words went straight to our minds and hearts, earning applause, nods and amens in the moment, but their meaning was even more evident in the melodies and polyrhythms of her songs. And those we carry home in our bodies.
—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich