We speak to the inimitable Angélique Kidjo who shares some of her refreshing thoughts on Africa Day.
Today is Africa Day and while primarily a commemoration of the formation of the African Union (AU) back in 1963, it has also become an opportunity to unapologetically celebrate Africa while providing a moment for reflection on how far we’ve come as a continent and as a people.
With this year’s theme focused on “Silencing the Guns in the context of the COVID19”, there has never been a more important time for deep reflection on our collective present and future as Africans.
And who better to share in that reflection than the legendary and inimitable Beninese musician Angélique Kidjo? A fierce African and artist who has paved the way for many of her contemporaries including Burna Boy, Davido, Thandiswa Mazwai, and several others, the four-time Grammy award winner emphasises the urgent need for unity among Africans. ‘It’s about time that people start realising that Africa is a continent. I’ve been saying this my entire career,’ she says passionately.
OkayAfrica spoke briefly to Kidjo who shared some of her refreshing thoughts on this year’s Africa Day.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are some of your thoughts on Africa Day and some of the celebrations going on?
I don’t know what took us so long for Africa Day to be celebrated in 2020. But I say better later than never. I hope we’ll do this every year to incorporate new coming artists and give them a platform. We Africans have the knowledge and the capacity of doing and [bringing] the attention of the world to the vibrancy and creativity that come from Africa. Music is easy to do but we should be able to do it with a free form of art that is there. We could do music [Africa Day], a fashion one, a literature one, contemporary art. We have a massive amount of art that is not known even in Africa, let alone the rest of the world. And I think this is very crucial for us to do for the young generation to be proud of their continent and to be able to find meaning to be alive.
What do you think are some points for reflection for Africans across the continent on this particular day?
What we should be thinking about right now is how, after this pandemic, we reset the button about Africa and pan-Africanism.
“We’ve seen throughout the centuries that being divided has never benefitted us. It benefits people outside.”
The important thing we should realise in order for us to stand on both our feet and to to be counted, we have to be united. There’s no other way we can do it. And also, for civil society to be a force that politicians have to reckon with, we have to be heard. In order to develop our countries, we need infrastructure for us to be able artists who can perform every where in Africa. Anyone would be welcome but we would walk our own road. No one should impose to us how we should do it. That needs advocacy from the social entrepreneur, lawmakers and everybody to make sure that we are protected in every way, shape or form: artistically and economically. We demand not to be at the mercy of our circumstances anymore.
When you think of this particular day, what artists or songs come to mind in the way of celebrating Africa?
My favourite one is always the traditional music that brings us to realize how we have impacted the music of the world. That’s where everything started. We tend to think that we have to copy music that comes from another part of the world. No, we are centre of their music. Their music exists because of Africa. And so I celebrate the music of my continent. I celebrate its vibrancy, tolerance towards other cultures. We never we never discriminate and welcome every music and we use every music. Music should be that. It has no nationality, no boundaries. I’m proud of being African because of what we brought to the culture of before. And that’s the thing, we have to educate the younger generation for them to realise that if they like music from from Jay-Z, from anybody, Africa is at the centre of it. We have nothing to envy and have something to bring to the table.
“Celia” wins Best World Music Album | 2020 GRAMMYSwww.youtube.com
For the longest time, the narrative has been about Africa and African artists going to the world but everyone is starting to realise that Africa has always been at the centre. What do you make of that?
“Well, it’s about time.”
It’s about time that people start realising that Africa is a continent. I’ve been saying this my entire career. I’ve had some frustrating interviews throughout my career where I’ve always had to justify that where I come from is not a pigeonhole but a continent with a lot of things that you have been consuming. The sugar you put in your coffee, without Africans, you don’t have it. I mean, the wealth you are enjoying today, we are part of it. I think that we have to take pride in the fact that despite all the obstacles and all the hurdles on our way, we managed to exist.
We have a new genre of music that is appealing to everybody. How did Latin Americans’ music make it to the whole world? Everybody started playing it in Latin America and abroad. The Afrobeat that is out there, we all have to start incorporating it so that it becomes our signature. It doesn’t mean that that Afrobeat is putting aside our traditional music. Being creative and using one type of music that is really recognisable by everybody in the world can help us map Africa, musically, to the point that everything else that comes in, it flows. Without Afrobeat, there’s no funk or reggae, everything.