Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kango Manta Zogbin
July 14, 1960
Ouidah, Atlantique, Benin
1982 – Present
Kidjo was born in Ouidah (then named Dahomey), a small harbor town on the coast of Benin, on July 14, 1960 to Franck and Yvonne Kidjo. She was born into the Petah tribe and was baptized under the name Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kango Manta Zogbin, which roughly translates to "the blood of a lantern will not light a spark." Alongside her eight brothers and sisters, Kidjo was encouraged to be creative from a young age, as her father enjoyed amateur photography and playing the banjo, and her mother was a renowned choreographer and theatre director. A young Kidjo was encouraged to learn many different languages in addition to her native tongue of Fon.
At the young age of six, Kidjo began performing with her mother's theatre troupe, accompanying them across West Africa as a dancer and singer. She briefly abandoned the troupe at age nine to go to school, but two years later, she joined her brothers' group, the Kidjo Brothers Band, as the lead vocalist. Due to her brothers' influence, Kidjo became passionate about soul music, learning James Brown's greatest hits by heart.
In 1979, Kidjo had her first big break when a local radio station invited her to perform one of her songs on a daytime show. Being an avid anti-apartheid campaigner, she chose to perform a piece written about Winnie Mandela and the political struggle in South Africa. Due to her success on the local radio, Kidjo came into contact with Ekambi Brillant, a Cameroonian producer and singer, who encouraged Kidjo to record her debut album in the studio. Along with Brillant, Kidjo flew to Paris, where she recorded her first album, Pretty, which was co-produced by her brother, Oscar Kidjo.
The album hit record stores in 1980 and proved a huge success among Africans. Two hit singles emerged from the album, "Ninivé" and "Pretty", after which thousands of Africans would come to see 'Angélique Pretty' perform live.
After the success of her first album, Kidjo was encouraged by Brillant to try launching her career in France. Kidjo moved in with her brother, who was based in the French capital, in 1983, but she struggled to get by and dropped out of her first term as a law student at university. In 1988, Kidjo formed her own group, Angie Kidjo, with a number of young talented French musicians from the jazz world, and went on to marry Jean Hébraïl, her backing group's bass player.
A year later, Kidjo launched her solo career with a modern fusion album entitled Parakou, named after a town in central Benin where there is a variety of cultures and musical styles. "Blewu" proved to be one of the best tracks on the album, featuring Kidjo's old pianist friend, Jasper van't Hof, on the keyboard.
That same year, Kidjo was invited to support her childhood idol, Miriam Makeba, in Paris. Together, Kidjo and Makeba performed at the Olympia and proved to be an extremely compatible team, as they shared the same dynamic temperament and political ideals. Kidjo returned to the Olympia in 1992, this time as a solo artist, and chose Zairean singer Lokua Kanza as the artist who would support her. After the concert, Kidjo retired from her career to care for her infant daughter, Naïma-Laura, who was born in the spring of 1993.
In 1995, Kidjo returned to her homeland of Benin to travel the length of the country, recording traditional music from several ethnic groups with her husband. Her efforts in Benin would later serve as inspiration for her next album, Fifa.
For her album Oremi, Kidjo flew to the United States to record. Though most of the tracks were written by Kidjo and her husband, an innovative cover version of Jimi Hendrix's hit "Voodoo Child" was included as well. During her recording session, Kidjo was joined in the studio by several prestigious guest stars, including saxophone player Branford Marsalis and singer Cassandra Wilson.
Kidjo moved to New York in 1998, citing more creative opportunities and musical facilities as a primary reason. A few years later, Kidjo was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and used her career to focus on girls' education. She founded the Batonga Foundation, which supports secondary school and higher education for girls in Africa.
In 1998, Kidjo performed a Fon cover of "We Are One" for Return to Pride Rock, the official soundtrack from The Lion King II: Simba's Pride. She recorded a music video for the song, which features footage from the film and Kidjo dancing and singing.