Angelique Kidjo first heard the Talking Heads’ album Remain In Light after moving from her home country of Benin to Paris in 1983. The record, made a few years prior in collaboration with producer Brian Eno, found David Byrne and the band wholly embracing the sounds and styles of West African music, with Nigeria’s Fela Kuti being a major inspiration. But the Talking Heads’ idiosyncratic downtown NYC cool was still very much in the mix. As Kidjo recalled of her first experience with the record, “This is African, yet it’s got something that is turning my head upside down.”
Last year, the dynamic singer, songwriter and performer Kidjo began performing the album live in concert at venues like Carnegie Hall, putting her own spin on the Byrne-Eno spin on Afrobeat. The project was so well received, she recorded her own front-to-back version of the album, which is out June 8th on Kravenworks records. And on Thursday night, Kidjo and her four-piece band played many of the record’s songs in a lively close to night three of NonCOMM.
In concert, Kidjo’s versions of songs like “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” and “Crosseyed And Painless” felt like a reclaiming. The new wave pop gloss was extracted, and the songs’ highly danceable core — driven by Conga drums as well as rock kit percussion, guitar, bass and synth — was the focus. An expansive “Once In A Lifetime” was lifted by joyous vocal harmonies, a more human contrast to the cold and distressed delivery on the original.
Playing at a radio convention, Kidjo also took an opportunity to cheer on those responsible for keeping the airwaves alive. “In this era of technology, please, radio, don’t change,” she said. “Without radio, the music from around the world that I spent my life listening to would never have made it to my ears.” And by keeping music alive, she said, it’s a reminder that humanity is safe. And to hammer that point home, Kidjo closed the set with her own song “Mama Africa,” leaping on the floor to dance with the enraptured crowd.
Check out a gallery of scenes from Kidjo’s performance below.
Angelique Kidjo, nc2018-dwn, NonCOMM 2018