Angelique Kidjo “connects the world through her music” at Expo 2020


She has been called “the first African diva” and ranked among the 100 most inspiring women in the world. Angélique Kidjo answers us in an interview on the sidelines of the Dubai “Expo 2020. The singer and songwriter performed at its opening ceremony.

Jane Witherspoon, euronews :

“This Expo 2020 is the first to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region. What do you think this means?”

Angelique Kidjo, Beninese singer and songwriter :

“I think it was time to organize it in this region. The capacity of African and Middle Eastern countries to foresee this type of event has already been there for some time. And the fact that for the first time, all African countries are represented at an Exhibition like this, it is also the beginning of a new era because Africa is undergoing transformation, booming. There is a lot going on in Africa and I am happy to see that this exhibition takes that into account and that it is paying attention to how the world is changing.”

“I try to make connections between cultures”

Jane Witherspoon :

“One of the themes of this Exhibition is “Connecting minds”. How do you interpret it for yourself, but also for Africa?”

Angelique Kidjo :

“Connecting minds is what I’ve been doing since I started singing. I try to make connections between cultures through my music, through collaborations. And that’s because since my childhood, I know that when you don’t know something, you necessarily make mistakes. But when we know what we’re talking about, whatever we’re doing, we see things differently. I traveled all over the world and realized that we are no different from each other because everyone on this Earth is born of a father and a mother, no matter what color their skin is. What we need and dream about for our children is the same everywhere. It is not specific to any language, skin color or nationality. And for me, my music is exactly that: it helps connect the world and minds for the future. We must take this into account in order to put everyone on an equal footing, not to judge others, nor to put the standard of living before the spirit and creativity of people.”

“It took us a virus to remind us that we must live together”

Jane Witherspoon :

“192 countries gather in Dubai for this World Expo. And I believe it is an event that we need more than ever after the two years we have just spent around the world.”

Angelique Kidjo :

“I think during the pandemic, we began to realize that we were not alone, that we could not live each other in our corner. It took us a virus to remind us that in our interests and for our common future, we must live together. No matter which country we are in, we are all connected. And we also realize that together we are stronger. Together, we can tackle the major problems we face. Today, climate change is becoming a reality. It is no longer just poor countries that are suffering from this climate change that no one wanted to talk about, that no one wanted to see. Today, we are all concerned. It affects Germany, the United States, Europe as a whole. And this is just the beginning.”

“Without women, what would society look like?”

Jane Witherspoon :

“One of the other battles you are fighting is the education of women and young women. Why is it so important to you? And what remains to be done in this area?”

Angelique Kidjo :

“You know, when I was appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2002, the first question I asked was, “What does this role mean?”I said I’m not good at blah-blah, or shaking hands with politicians, because I always say what I think and that’s what gets me in trouble. Then [à l’UNICEF,] they asked me what I wanted to do and I said, “I want to work on women’s empowerment, girls’ education and children’s education”. And I realized on my first trip in this role, to Tanzania, that everywhere in Africa, it is women and young women who are the pillars of society. What I always say is that African women are the backbone of this continent. And this is the case everywhere. Without women, what would society look like? We cannot continue like this: we cannot afford to leave out 50% or even more than 50% of the world’s population and think that society will work. I realized that when you empower girls through education – even if sometimes it’s not the education they need, but seed funding for the activity they want to start – you see the results within three months. They create jobs, they improve their living conditions, they start saving for their children’s education, for their future children, for their families and the community. And it makes it possible to fight poverty, to tackle most of the problems we are talking about.”

“When children go to bed with nothing in their stomachs, it’s a shame for all of us”

Jane Witherspoon :

“You have a great career. Music is your great love and you have won so many awards and Grammy Awards. What do these rewards mean to you?”

Angelique Kidjo :

“It’s a responsibility. This means that I have to work even harder and probably, that I am on the right track in putting my voice at the service of humanity. I’m actually here with you, but I feel connected to every human on this Earth. When someone suffers somewhere, I suffer too. When people have nothing to eat, when children continue to go to bed with nothing in their stomachs, it is a shame for all of us. There is enough to eat on this planet to feed everyone. We waste so much food that we should be ashamed that we are not aware that there are people who do not make a meal a day, that as we speak, there are children who do not make a meal a day. And these things worry me constantly because I know we have solutions. I know we can make a difference. Here at this Exhibition, we talk about “connecting minds” and “creating the future,” but we can’t connect minds or create the future if our children are sick. There is no child who can go to school on an empty stomach and understand something about it. These are very simple things, but we are not able to find solutions!”

“There is no humanity without music”

Jane Witherspoon :

“You said you use your music to make connections between cultures. Why are arts and music in particular so important to society, so universal?”

Angelique Kidjo :

“Just look at what happened at the beginning of this pandemic. People stood at their windows, sang and encouraged the caregivers because music is a universal language. I am in a context where I work with orchestras where no one speaks the same language. And as soon as we put the words aside and start playing music, we all speak the same language. And there is no humanity without music. Let us go back to our ancestors who did not express themselves by words, who were there before homo sapiens as they are called today: they lived a whole series of evolutions, nature gave them food and it was the noise that gave them the meaning of music and words. So music is really something that is rooted deep within us.”


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