/ languages

Choisir langue

Moving on up with Angélique Kidjo and Bibi Tanga and the Selenites

by Alison Hird

Article published on the 2010-02-12 Latest update 2010-02-12 17:31 TU

Angélique Kidjo and Dominique James perform in RFI's studio 136(Photo: Pierre Valée)

Angélique Kidjo and Dominique James perform in RFI's studio 136
(Photo: Pierre Valée)

Today’s World Tracks guests have chosen to live out of Africa but celebrate its native languages and defend their right to move and groove with the times.

World Tracks: Angélique Kidjo, Bibi Tanga and the Selenites visit RFI's studio 136

12/02/2010 by Alison Hird

Benin native Angélique Kidjo was in fine form when she recently came into RFI’s studio 136 for a live session on Musiques du Monde.

Never one to mince her words, she pre-empted any complaints about her venturing once again into the world of funk and pop, saying she wasn’t taking lessons from anybody and certainly wasn’t treading on other people’s territory.

If anything,  “they’re the ones coming into mine”, she said in reference to doing cover versions of songsters like Curtis Mayfield (Move on up) or James Brown (Cold sweat) on her latest album. After all, such music has its roots in Africa.

Three years after the Grammy-winning Djin Djin, Kidjo has released Oyo (Beauty).

It consists largely of covers of the male and female idols of her childhood: Bella Bellow, Miriam Makeba, Aretha Franklin, Carlos Santana, Curtis Mayfield … Kidjo revisits the R&B, soul, jazz but also traditional Benin melodies that inspired her when she was young and helped make her one of the most renowned African singers in the world today.

As on Djin Djin (2007) where she performed duets with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Alicia Keys, Kidjo continues to collaborate with a fine crop of talent. Her guest musicians on Oyo are Roy Hargrove, John Legend and Diane Reeves.  

Now 49, her voice is as remarkable as ever. Soft and clear and as a bell on Sidney Bechet’s Petite Fleur - one of her father’s favourites -and Santana’s Samba Pa Ti, which she sings with great feeling in Yoruba.

When she belts out Curtis Mayfield’s Move on Up - and adds her own call to Africa in the refrain - you feel the force not just of her voice but the woman that has become a goodwill ambassador for Unicef. While Mayfield wrote the song in the 60s for black youth in America’s ghettos,  Kidjo told RFI she was dedicating it to young people in Africa and right around the world.

“They need to dream and we’re selling their dreams down the line,” she raged.

Bibi Tanga in RFI's studio 136(Photo: Pierre Valée)

Bibi Tanga in RFI's studio 136
(Photo: Pierre Valée)

And it was the mistress of improvisation that shone when Kidjo got to performing Move on up live in RFI’s studios, alongside Bibi Tanga and the Selenites.

Bibi Tanga knows a thing or two about accompaniment. He started off as a saxophonist, even tap-dancer, before moving over to bass and vocals. He excels at both and is now a force to be reckoned with in his own right in a jazz/groove milieu not oversubscribed in France.

Born in Bangui, Central African Republic, he’s spent most of his life in France, with stints in the US, Germany and Russia alongside his diplomat father.  

He soon got the vibe thanks to  Bob Marley, James Brown, Sly and The Family Stone and Curtis Mayfield but also owes much inspiration to French song writing poets like Brassens, Brel and Ferré.

He cut his teeth on the Paris metro, before joining France’s most famous groove band the Malka family in 2000. With them he recorded his first album Le Vent qui souffle.  

He set up his own band Les Gréements de Fortune in 2004 and they now have a regular weekly music slot on the Saturday night TV show Salut les terriens (Hi, Earthlings).

Tanga’s talents don’t stop at groove and he’s worked to great effect with DJ, producer and tables wizard  Le Professeur Inlassable (the untiring professor). Together they made an acclaimed mix of hip hop, jazz, funk and gospel titled Yellow gauze in 2006. That allowed Tanga to give full vent to his myriad of different voices. The singer goes effortlessly from Mayfieldesque falsetto to the half-sung half-spoken poetry of a Gil Scott-Heron.

The duo has now become a five-piece band, Bibi Tanga and the Selenites (moon-dwellers). Their first album Dunya (Existence in Sango) comes from  “the dark side of the moon” says Tanga.

Still strong on groove and funk rhythms, it pays homage in the soulful Gospel Singers and successfully ventures into rap-lite on Swing Swing. Three tracks, Bê Africa, Pasi and Dunya, are sung in Tanga’s native Sango language. Infused with Congolese rumba and Afrobeat, they’re pearls.

Angélique Kidjo Oyo (Naïve) 2010.

Bibi Tanga and the Selenites Dunya  (Nat Geo music) 2010. 


World Tracks

(Credit: Nneka)

Nneka: hip-hop till you drop

Nigerian-German hip-hop/soul artist Nneka has come a long way since she first spoke to Worldtracks in 2007. With the release of her fourth album Concrete Jungle and a guest appearance on the David Letterman show in the US, she’s quickly becoming one to watch.

2010-02-06 11:27 TU

Malam Mamane Barka(Photo: Eric van Nieuwland)

Sounds from the River Niger

Salif Keita's latest album seeks to fight discrimination against his fellow albinos, and Mamane Barka, the last master of the biram, battles to save the traditional instrument.

2010-01-30 16:33 TU

World Tracks

French group Sourya(Photo: Sourya)

Electro sounds with a beating heart

Well-established French electro-pop duo Air have returned with a groovy and uptempo production, while innovative newcomers Sourya have used a Nintendo DS to pack more emotion into their debut album than a dancefloor can normally withstand.

2010-01-23 12:20 TU

World Tracks

Christine Ott also uses the ondea, similar to the ondes martenot, in her classes(Photo: Alison Hird)

Sculpting music with the ondes martenot

Many musicians have been inspired by the ondes martenot. The electronic keyboard can produce a huge range of fascinating sounds but the instrument itself remains somewhat marginal and misunderstood. Christine Ott is determined to change that.

2010-01-18 18:13 TU

Lhasa de Sela.Photo: AP

Lhasa: a unique voice

The Mexican-American singer Lhasa de Sela died on 1 January 2010, aged just 37. In tribute to her remarkable voice and force we rebroadcast a Worldtracks from 2003 which followed the release of her second album The Living Road.

2010-01-08 17:19 TU

Malawi, Swedish, French combo The Very Best live on stage at the Transmusicales
(Photo: RFI)

Breton festival puts unknowns on stage

French festival Les Transmusicales is renowned for its eclectic line-up of relatively unknown bands from all over the world. But some acts have gone on to bigger things, including Nirvana, Dizzee Rascal and Justice.

2010-01-05 14:21 TU

(Photo: detail from the album cover of Pink Martini's latest album)

Pink Martini, Inna Modja: festive tonic

The latest album from Pink Martini, Splendour in the Grass, pulls out all the stops. And Inna Modja is a newcomer who dared go knock on Salif Keita’s door!

2009-12-25 10:16 TU

Langhorne Slim(Photo: Pierre Vallée)

Folk meets blues meets Africa

New Yorkers Bethany & Rufus join forces with African percussionists, while Langhorne Slim delivers his own pared-down, acoustic love songs with disarming sincerity.

2010-01-27 13:43 TU

Abraham Inc(Photo: Jon Wasserman)

Abraham Inc and Faren Kahn - the revival of Klezmer

Klezmer is one of the most nomadic forms of world music and no Jewish wedding would be complete without it! World Tracks talks to David Krakauer about the revival of Klezmer and his mission to keep it out of the museum.

2009-12-13 12:18 TU