One of Africa’s greatest music exports and Grammy award winning songstress, Angelique Kidjo, was in town recently. The last time the lady of songs was in Nigeria in 2015 when she made her debut in a movie dubbed The CEO produced by Kunle Afolayan. Kidjo speaks with LANRE ODUKOYA on her career and love life.
When last did you visit Nigeria?
I was here March, last year.
You said you grew up in Benin Republic; what memories do you have of the country?
I still have a lot of good memories, because I still have family there and I go there every year pretty much. I have memory of summer holidays, especially when I come to visit my aunties in Lagos; my cousins also come. We storm the place, go everywhere, speak different languages like Pidgin, Yoruba; and we come up with a lot of funny, dangerous ideas of games and my mum would tell us: ‘You would be beaten by somebody because if somebody’s child is here, you will see what will happen to you. But the thing is, the feeling of being protected and loved like any child feeling indestructible: like you can do anything; and that comes with childhood and when you have a loving family, everything works perfectly because you know well that if you hurt yourself, even if they yell at you, they are still going to do nothing to you.
I have a lot of good memories of my brothers too; them teaching me how to defend myself because I was so small and skinny.
Were you the only female in the family?
No, there are 10 children of seven males and three females, so I was the last girl.
What was it like, growing up among young men?
Wow, I would climb trees, do karate, play soccer; and my mum would ask me, what are you made of, are you a girl? I wanted a girl and see what I got, a tomboy.
How many of the Benin languages do you speak?
I speak four of them fluently.
What role are you playing in the Kunle Afolayan’s movie, The CEO?
I’m not going to tell you that; when it comes out, you are going to see it.
Is this your first time of appearing in a movie?
I have done some movies. My first experience was the one I shot with Al Pacino, and I have also done with some other people I know.
How excited are you acting alongside Kunle Afolayan?
I am always excited to do something different, I am the type of person who likes to challenge herself, because I hate boredom. I can’t just do something and get bored; life is too short to be bored spending your life being bored, doing things you do not like. I actually started acting with my mother in her theatre group when I was six years old in Cotonou. And she is still the only woman in West Africa, who has the largest theatre group – seventy people, she wrote the play, conducted it, and did the lights, costumes and every other thing. I was always interested in how you put a mask on and you can be somebody else; how you, being in the movie or theatre, which allows you to be somebody that you wanted to be and you never thought you could be; that’s something that I love to do.
Not many Africans singers shine with the singular honour of winning the Grammy; when you got your first Grammy, how did you feel, did you ever think you were going to win?
When I won Grammy, it was my fifth nomination out of the six I have got, and my album has always been nominated since the first one, Logozo and Agolo were nominated, competing with the likes of The Rolling Stones and other big names; I was in competition with them. But the thing is, sometimes I go to Grammies and sometimes I do not, because I do not like Red Carpet; I do not like the fake stuff and everybody will just keep clamouring and all that; I tell you what, I don’t like it at all. I just like being on stage, having fun doing my thing, but all the star stuff around it, I’m just too much of a tomboy to be met at a corner and somebody telling me to pose, I do not pose, I do what I want to do.
How do you jostle your career and matrimony?
Well, fortunately for me, my husband happens to be my partner on this, because we write music together and we have toured together every day for 10 years, 24/7. And when our daughter turned four, he told me he was not doing this anymore, ‘I want to go to bed and sleep’, and I would wake him and he would say no; then I would ask him, are you sure you want to quit doing this? He would reply and say he wants to be Mr. Mum, I said go ahead and you would have to learn how to braid hair and I’m not ready to teach you that one; so we went around and did the tour. Basically, we were friends before we became lovers, and we had the music passion together. Not only that, we had a lot of things in common which has kept our union going on. As I said, this is going to be the first time I’m going to celebrate one of my wedding anniversaries. It is going to be in Nigeria; August 29th is going to be our 20th anniversary. So sometime it is easy and sometime, it is not. You have to make a lot of sacrifice, but you have to compromise a lot. Even when you have a 8a.m. to 5p.m. job; even if you do not travel as much as I do, it is always about compromise; but the compromise does not mean I have to be the one doing them, he has to……. I am not his puppet, he is not mine