Saturday, May 29, 2010

Angelique Kidjo on Voodoo and Catholicism

This is an excerpt from a June, 1998 interview with Angelique Kidjo (AK) done by Nick Harcourt (NH) of radio station KCRW in Santa Monica, CA, during the "Morning Becomes Eclectic" show. The transcript is from here. The excerpt starts where Angelique is already talking about her tour at the time and she starts to talk about her two religions ....
AK: I decided to move forward, to go and meet the black Diaspora that comes basically from Africa that are in the world. And my first stop is in America. And, of course, that album has a sound of R&B and soul and funk, that was my first influences. And my second stop is gonna be in Brazil, and my third stop is gonna be in Cuba, Haiti, and New Orleans because all of those places keep something which is very close to my country which is the Voodoo religion and the rhythms.
NH: Let's talk about the religion a little bit if you can before we play some more music. I know that you actually share two religions, I mean, you have Catholic. And you have animism. How do you juxtapose, I mean use both of those religions, how can they both be a part of your life? I'm not saying that they shouldn't be. I'm just interested to know how do you make these two religions both a part of who you are?
AK: When the missionaries arrived in Benin, for example, and they brought the religion, they asked everyone to be baptized, and everybody had been baptized but, we told them from day one that our religion we wanna keep it because our religion is very important for us. And they were obliged to accept that, there was no way for them not to accept that because people wouldn't go to their church and not go into their Voodoo ceremony after. So the first cathedral that had been built in the history of the Catholic religion in Benin was built right in front of the Temple of Python. And those two priests were very close friends. And how did those affect my life and I incorporate them in my life? It's simple. In the Voodoo religion they teach us to respect the nature and to respect every human being. Everything that is alive on this earth we have to have respect for because we believe in Voodoo religion that without the nature, a man would not exist, a human being would not exist. Therefore, we choose to believe in the thunder, in the lightning, in the water, in all the elements that are surrounding us, our lives. Snake is very important because they say in the mythology of the Voodoo religion that this world had been created by two snakes, male and female; during 40 days they created all the planets. And at the dawn of the 41st day, they embraced themselves and left the earth to leave the human being to do what they have to do. And those snakes are called aida-wedo, which means what belongs to the earth belongs to you. And when those gods come to reward somebody who works for a community, they come in terms of rainbow. And they call these two rainbows rainbow snake. And in Haiti, they call it aida-Houeda, and everything stays like that because, what is very important for me is the care of each other. That's what Catholic religion teaches us: You have to love each other. God doesn't send us on the earth to kill each other. He sent us for us to use our brain and our self-conscience to work for a better life for every individual and for everybody. And that's one of the things I really appreciate, too, in the Voodoo religion, where we deal with community.
NH: Well, I like that you can take both of those beliefs because animism itself, or Voodoo, is obviously really a belief of everything having a purpose and everything having a soul and everything having a reason, and taking the caring part of the Catholic religion and putting it together. That makes sense to me. Anyway, why don't we have some more music, and then we'll come back and talk some more in a little while. What's the next piece you're gonna play for us?
AK: The next song I wanna sing is gonna be an a capella song a singer from Togo next door to Benin used to sing. It's called "Blewu," and that singer was one of my biggest influences, too, in Africa. She died in a car accident in 1973, and it was a loss for us in West Africa because she was very big. And "Blewu" means, it's a thanking song that we used to sing when everybody joined for a drum or for a concert, and we ask the Almighty to send everybody back home safe, with no harm to anyone. So, for the listeners outside, this is my thanking for them sitting down or driving their car listening, this song is dedicated to everybody.
NH: On Morning Becomes Eclectic at KCRW, it's Angelique Kidjo.
AK: (sings "Blewu")
NH: Angelique Kidjo live on Morning Becomes Eclectic. That was beautiful a capella piece. Thank you so much.
AK: Pleasure.
NH: OK, so we're talking about the fact, I'm sort of backtracking now, how you started, you came to Paris, your career really began there, at least the Western part of your career. You're now living in New York City. How do you find New York City? How long have you been there?
AK: A year. Almost a year, yeah.
NH: And the community, it's a pretty different place from Paris.
AK: Oh, it is different from Paris, and it's different from Africa where I come from. What I like about New York is the energy in that city. I mean, it's moving non-stop. And when you are in New York, you have an idea of how the world can look like. You have every kind of different person, different parts of the world there. You have Asia, you have Latin America, you have Africa, you have North America, you have Europe, you have everybody living in New York City. And I like the energy, and I like the way you work there. When you wake up in the morning, you wanna do something, they can be efficiently used, and boom, have things done, and I like that.
NH: It's certainly a city of many, many, many different cultures. Los Angeles is, too, but I would think that New York is probably even more diverse.
AK: Absolutely, and I like that. I'm somebody who likes to challenge and mix things and mix people. I like that.
NH: And you were saying that your next stop is going to be Brazil. You want to live in Brazil at some point?
AK: Yeah, I'm going to go to Salvador Bahia to start with to write because the Salvadorian people have a very close history with my village. The first colonist that arrived in Benin was a Brazilian white man called Francisco de Souza. He arrived and he was very close friends of the king. And he was married to different women there, he had a lot of kids, and you have a huge, big community of mixed kids between Brazilian white people and Beninese women. And there is an anecdote about this guy that arrived that explains completely how things happen like this today, how slavery was possible, and how the relationships are still in Africa. As I was saying before, he was a friend of the king. And they had a fight, I think he betrayed the king. and when you betray a king, they kill you.
NH: Not a good guy to betray.
AK: No.
NH: Not the king.
AK: So in the Voodoo religion, there are two colors that you can't play around with: red, which is the color of the blood that links animals and human beings together, and the color white, which is the color that we wrap the god and goddesses in, meaning, it is the light, it has nothing to do with the dark. So because he was white, they couldn't kill him. So the king said, "Why don't you dye him with indigo?" So they dyed that guy with indigo and they tied him up outside in the backyard, but he was looking at them, his eyes were blue. They were like, "This is weird; he's not a black man, we can't kill him. Let us let him go." So they let him go, and he moved from the Kingdom of Abomey to my village. So, the people that come from Benin and go to Salvador Bahia, they came back, and they influenced the traditional music of my village. There are a lot of things that sound like samba and like the drum of the olodoum. And they came back, too, and built up a museum in my village. So when you go to my village and you visit my village, you have two museum. You have the museum of Benin, with the beginning of the colonization and the slavery -- the people that came back, the Cubans came back, the Brazilian people came back, the Haitian people came back, to influence the music itself and the way of life. And you have the museum of the Salvadorian people that came back to Benin and built up a museum. So, people tell me that going to Salvador Bahia is just like my village, so I wanna go there.
NH: So you wanna go check it out.
AK: Oh, yeah.
NH: Do you get back to Benin, to your own village very often? Do you return?
AK: Oh, yeah, I try once a year.
NH: To go home, you still have family?
AK: I have my dad, my mom, my family, my uncles, my aunts, and cousins.
NH: So it's always good to go back and make that connection.
AK: I need to go.
Angelique Kidjo in concert in Benin
(where she was born):