Recognised as one of world”s 100 most inspiring women, award-winning singer-songwriter and activist Angelique Kidjo has been called ‘Africa’s premiere diva’. In this episode of Interview, Euronews’ Jane Witherspoon caught up with the singer following her recent performance at the opening of the World Expo 2020 in Dubai, to talk about her music, passions and work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Jane Witherspoon, Euronews: “It’s the first time the World Expo is being held in the Middle East. What’s the significance of that?
Angelique Kidjo: “I think it’s about time that it is done here…and for African countries, for all of them to be here, it is also the beginning of a new era because Africa is on the move, is on the rise. A lot of things are happening in Africa and I’m happy to see that this Expo is taking that into account and the world is following, watching as it expands.”
Jane Witherspoon, Euronews: “One of the [Expo] themes is connecting minds. What does that mean for you personally, as well as for Africa?
Angelique Kidjo: “Well [connecting] minds, I have been doing that since I started singing basically. I started building, trying to build cultural bridges through my music, through collaboration, and because I’ve felt since I was a child growing up that if you don’t know something, you always make mistakes. If you are informed when you speak, whatever you do, you think about it differently. And I’ve been travelling around the world and I’ve realised that we are not that different from one another because every person on this earth has been born from a father and a mother. It doesn’t matter [what] skin you have, the needs that we have and the dreams we have for our children are the same across the board. It has no language, no colour, no nationality. And for me, my music is what it is and we’ve got to connect the world and minds in the future. We need to take that into account to practise treating everybody equally, not judging and putting standards of wealth before people’s minds and people’s creativity.”
Jane Witherspoon, Euronews: “We have one hundred and ninety two countries coming together in Dubai for this Expo. And I think now more than ever, we really need this after the last couple of years that the globe has had!
Angelique Kidjo: “I think after the pandemic.. during the pandemic, we started realising that we are not alone. That we cannot live alone. It takes a virus to remind us that we, for our sake and for our future together, we need to live together. It doesn’t matter where we live, we are connected. And also we are realising that together we are stronger. Together we can tackle the main problems that we have. And today, climate change is also pushing at the door. It’s becoming a reality. It’s no longer poor countries that are suffering from climate change… it’s affected Germany, the United States, Europe at large. And this is just the beginning of it.”
Jane Witherspoon, Euronews: “One of the other topics that you’re an avid campaigner for is the education of women and young women. Why is that so important for you and what still needs to be done?”
Angelique Kidjo: “Well, you know, after I was nominated Goodwill Ambassador in 2002 for UNICEF. And the first question I asked was, ”what does it mean to be a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador?” And I said specifically, I’m not good at small talk, and I’m not good at shaking politicians hands, because I always open my mouth and get myself into trouble. So this is what you want to do. I said women empowerment, young girls education, children’s education. And as we started, I realised from the first trip I took in Tanzania that the women and the young women everywhere in Africa, they are the one’s that hold the society. I always say that African women are the backbone of that continent, and that is also true everywhere. Without women, what would society look like? We cannot continue. We cannot afford actually to leave 50, more than 50 percent of the population of the world aside and thinking that [society] is going to work. And I realised that by empowering young girls through education – sometimes it is not education that they need – [what] they need is seed funding for their business. You see the ripple effect within three months. They create jobs. Life is better. They start saving money for their children’s school, the future children they’re going to have. Their family and community. Pretty much to tackle poverty. To tackle most of the issues we are talking about.”
Jane Witherspoon, Euronews: ”You’ve had a formidable career. Music is obviously your first love and you’ve won so many awards. What do those awards mean to you?”
Angelique Kidjo: “It’s a responsibility. It means that I have to work harder and that probably I’m on the right path by using my voice for the sake of our humanity. I sit here and every part of my body is everywhere because I always say, if somebody is suffering somewhere, I am suffering. If people can’t eat, if children continue going to bed without having food it is a shame for all of us. There is enough food on this planet for us to feed everybody. We waste so much food that we should be ashamed of not being aware of the fact that there are people that are going, as we speak right now, they actually haven’t had one meal a day today. And those things are constantly an every day worry for me, because I know we have the solutions. We know we can change it. Here we are, connecting the mind, creating the future. We cannot connect the mind. We cannot create a future if our children are sick. No children [should] go to school [with an] empty belly and not understand anything…those are very simple things that we haven’t been able to provide.”
Jane Witherspoon, Euronews: ”You said that you use your music to create cultural bridges. Why is the arts and music in particular so important to society and so universal?”
Angelique Kidjo: “Well let’s see… the beginning of this pandemic. What happened? People stayed at windows, sang…encouraging the health workers. Because music is a universal language and I’ve been in a setting where I’ve been working with orchestras where not two people speak the same language. And from the moment we dropped the words and started using music, we all speak the same language. And there’s no humanity without music…”