Saturday, October 27, 2012


The music in Benin is a montage of music from Africa, from Europe, from the Caribbean and other areas of the Americas. One of the most famous musicians to come out of Benin is Angélique Kidjo. (According to Wikipedia, her real name is Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo.) Listed as one of the 50 Most Iconic Figures from Africa by BBC, Kidjo has performed with numerous musicians the world over. She is fluent in all of the languages spoken in Benin (Fon, Yoruba, and French) as well as English and will sing in all of them. There are even a few songs where she even sings in her own personal language. Since 2002, she has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has traveled around the world doing benefit concerts for not only UNICEF but for a number of other charitable organizations throughout the world. Not to mention The Batonga Foundation that she herself founded in order to help girls have the opportunity for secondary and higher education. She really is a great humanitarian and peace ambassador, and she currently lives in New York, NY.  I listened to the album Spirit Rising, which is a live album produced earlier this year of songs she’s performed throughout her career. I really liked the album. And I’m really happy that my library has it. One of the best songs on the album – in my opinion – is the song “Malaika” (which is sung in Swahili).

Another musician I came across is the jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke. Although he was born in Benin, he studied music and jazz in Côte d’Ivoire, France, and the United States. He got the opportunity to perform and tour with the famous Herbie Hancock. He also has performed with a number of musicians all over the world. I listened to the album Heritage and The Virgin Forest: The Complete Sessions, both of which are very good. However, I was more drawn to The Virgin Forest (for which I’m glad that my library also carries this album). There are several tracks that remind me of the bossanova sounds of Brazil. It’s definitely a fusion of jazz and African rhythms and harmony. Herbie Hancock himself recorded and improvised with Loueke on this album which also includes several other guest performers as well. I'm so impressed with this song and the fact that he's not only playing and singing but also clicking with his tongue for a percussive effect. 

Other musical styles have made their way through Benin and have influenced its popular music as well. Hip-hop from the United States through Europe and other areas of Africa led to a rise in popularity as well as reggae from the Caribbean. Like most typical music from Africa, percussion is at the heart and core of it.

When it comes to dance, Ghana, Togo, and Benin share many similarities in the cultural arts. The Adzogbo dance originated in Benin. During the dance, the men would display their charms, especially their love-charms to entice the women. Even though the video above lists that the Adzogbo dance is a war dance, so perhaps the reasons behind it has changed over the centuries, or it may be different in different areas. The Kabre tribe of Benin gave us the Gota dance which was originally a dance designated towards the war god. While these two dances originated from Benin, other dances from these nearby countries are also performed in Benin as well.

Up next: the food!

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