Angelique Kidjo: "Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:58
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Angelique Kidjo is the first woman to make Forbes Magazine's list of the 40 most powerful celebrities in Africa. But to anyone who knows her, she's much more than a celebrity. The Grammy Award winning musician is a UNICEF ambassador and founder of an organization that supports education for girls in Africa. Today marks release of her tenth studio album. Her memoir came out earlier this month. That book is titled, "Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music." Angelique Kidjo joins me in the studio.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:43
You're invited, as always, to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to DRShow@WAMU.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. I'm so happy to meet you.

MS. ANGELIQUE KIDJO

11:08:04
Oh, Diane, I'm so happy to be here. What an introduction. Oh, my God. Oh, I feel like on the moon right now.

REHM

11:08:13
Well, let me tell you that reading your book, seeing your photographs, seeing videos, seeing pictures, I thought I was going to meet a seven foot tall woman. You are so powerful. And this voice is so powerful. And, yet, you are tiny.

KIDJO

11:08:44
Well, I think that is a wonder of God.

REHM

11:08:47
It is.

KIDJO

11:08:48
And, as my mother used to say, God gave us talent, skill, and know that we can deal with it. It doesn't matter the size of the person. It doesn't matter the skin color. It doesn't matter. You just have to use it for the betterment of human kind.

REHM

11:09:03
The first page of your new book titled, "Spirit Rising," has a photograph of you and your father. And it says, "In memory of my father, who stood up and sent all his daughters to school." And the final chapter of the book is titled, "My father's voice." Tell us about your father.

KIDJO

11:09:34
My father was a man of moderation, of conversation all the time. He's open to discuss every subject, at the exception of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. And he always set up the house for us to be free, to listen to music, to do sport, to be open and to read. My father read more books than anybody I've ever met in my life. And I always asked my father, "Why are you reading that book again? You read so much." He said, "Every day I learn. Until I die, I'm willing to learn -- to know better myself and to know the world better."

KIDJO

11:10:16
"You should do the same thing and be open to the world. Wherever you go, don't feel small, don't feel tall, don't feel big -- feel equal to everybody."

REHM

11:10:26
How unusual was it in your community within Benin that he wanted you educated -- you and your sisters?

KIDJO

11:10:37
I'm telling you, he going through hell for that, because every new school year, you have family members and so-called good friends who said, you're wasting your money. You're wasting your time sending your girls to school. You should marry them off. You'd make money out of it. And my father always said, "They're not merchandise. They're human beings. They have a brain. I want them to decide for their own lives. I don't want to be here taking all the responsibility for what happened to their life. No. I'm responsible for my life and I can't even deal with it already.

KIDJO

11:11:07
And I don't want my kids to be all the time my responsibility. Educating my children is making them richer than anybody else. I want to take leading their own lives, to make their choices, their mistakes -- to fall and to rise."

REHM

11:11:21
Well, there is a song, and we're going to hear of, it's the final song on your new album. It's titled, "Cauri."

REHM

11:13:15
Tell us what this song is about.

KIDJO

11:13:19
It's a song of the lament of a teenager that her parents are marrying on --are married up to an elderly man. And everybody's cheering, especially the husband's family, saying, our dowry, our new wife that's going to start a new lineage in our family. And everybody's cheering. And that little girl is sitting down there saying, what about me? What about my life? What if I don't decide to be the one to marry an elderly man? What if I want to go to school? What if I want a different lifestyle? I know my parents, they love me and they think that they are doing the right choice for me.

KIDJO

11:14:01
But why should they do that without asking me if I really wanted to -- to do this?

REHM

11:14:06
And what is the Cauri?

KIDJO

11:14:09
Cauri's are the shells that we used before money, paper money, to -- for dowries and to buy things around in Africa. It has been the first money that men have been able to use to trade. And, for me, I used that word because it's always about that. When a family decides -- especially poor parents decide to marry their young girls is because, first of all, they care for her. Don't get me wrong. It's because they're too poor to take care of her. So they're thinking that, if she starts a new family early, she can make ends meet, and then she can have a life for herself -- without thinking about the pain that goes with it.

KIDJO

11:14:51
We are having more and more adolescents giving birth and dying in Africa because their body's not ready for it. So last time we had a conversation about it at the U.N., I said we should sign a resolution or make the countries make a law for men that marry those young kids, to be in the delivery room to see how painful it is. If they don't see it, we can talk as long as we want, they won't ever stop this. And the problem of this is because every single household, pretty much in Africa, have that kind of case.

KIDJO

11:15:25
So, if we want the leaders in Africa to move forward, they have to start cleaning up their own houses before getting outside.

REHM

11:15:33
Your parents gave you the freedom to make a choice of a husband. Tell me about him.

KIDJO

11:15:40
Well, when I was growing up, I used to tell my mom, "I don't want to get married. I don't want to serve a man. I don't want to do this. I don't want to do that." Everybody's looking at me. And my mom said, "You change your mind so much. Before you said you were going to marry early and have two boys, two girls. And now you don't want to marry anymore." I said, "Yes, because I'm seeing people is calling me prostitute. So, therefore, I don't want to get married. And my mom is there, "Okay. You're going to change your mind one day."

KIDJO

11:16:04
And I think that music was our passion -- both of us. We met at a jazz school. And all we'd do most of the time was talking about music, doing all those clubs where you play from 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. The club owner is going to finally tell you, I didn't make enough money to pay you. So we fell in love laughing about the same thing and we're still married. Now, this year's going to be our 27th year of marriage. In August 29, we'll be married for 27 years. And we still work together. We have a daughter that's going to be 21 at the end of March. She's a junior in Yale.

KIDJO

11:16:42
So it's just like I was lucky enough to find a man, because when I -- they knew he'd been in and that I was married, people -- the whole country said, "Huh? We want to see that man. This girl, she's a warrior. She didn't want any man," you know the hype. And I say, well love called. When the love -- when deep true love calls, there's no way you can resist that call.

REHM

11:17:06
Were they shocked that he was a white man?

KIDJO

11:17:10
Not my family, at all. My mom didn't care at all. My father and mother never cared about whoever we fall in love. Their concern was for us to be happy, not to be abused in any kind of way, because my father always used to say to us, "A man that raises a hand on you and says excuse me the first time, don't give him a second time to excuse himself. Get out of there." And my mom always used to say to us, "Your body's a sanctuary. If you love the man and if he does not respect you, don't accept that love." Respect goes with love. You're opinion has to matter as much as his opinion in the house.

KIDJO

11:17:43
So that's what I was looking for. And I found it.

REHM

11:17:47
You were very fortunate.

KIDJO

11:17:50
I know that. And I can't thank the Lord enough every day.

REHM

11:17:53
And he supported your career.

KIDJO

11:17:56
Absolutely. I mean, he would die for me. And I would die for him the same way. And I remember the first time my father met him, because my parents -- it was, we married in 1987 and it was still a communist regime. And they couldn't come to France for the wedding. The first time my father met him, he said, "You are the reincarnation of JFK, J. F. Kennedy."

REHM

11:18:18
How about that? Angelique Kidjo, "Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music." Stay with us.

REHM

11:20:01
And of course you're hearing the voice of Angelique Kidjo. You love that song you just heard.

KIDJO

11:20:09
I do. I do. Both of the songs that you played back to back are very special to me because the first song is a song talking about how death put us to realize how humble we have to be. It's a beginning of another life and it's also an end of another one. How do you deal with death? How do you move forward with the pain of somebody that passed away that you love? And sometimes you want to damn death but just life. Life and death work hand in hand.

KIDJO

11:20:43
And "Blow" is a blessing song and a thanking song for whoever give the time and the attention to another human being by being at their side, by coming to a concert, by coming to your home when you need them. It's important for us to give thanks.

REHM

11:21:00
Angelique, someone on Twitter wonders if there is a book that you like to re-read just as your father used to re-read?

KIDJO

11:21:13
I read a lot. My daughter -- I say my daughter eat books, me I read. She started reading things to us since she start knowing how to read. I mean, the library next to her school, she read everything pretty much, every jacket in the library. I love to read a lot because that's where I study literature in school. And I read the classic French literature and I studied German for five years. So I read a lot of German literature too.

KIDJO

11:21:43
And I love to read because I like to hear the people's story. I just need to see how I can relate to it and how far it can be for me. And in that circumstances that I'm reading about happened to my life, how will we deal with it?

REHM

11:21:59
And tell us about the Marxist coup d'etat in Benin in 1972, how it changed your country, how it changed the life you and your family had.

KIDJO

11:22:14
It changes everything. I mean, basically the freedom of the radio that we used to listen to from traditional music all the way down to the Beatles or James Brown or all the music of stacks Motown, all the music from all over the world that we used to listen to. I mean, it's just like the world was -- you put the radio on and you travel through the music. And from the moment the communist regime arrived, it has been banned. And you wake up in the morning with a propaganda slogan (speaks foreign language) in every different languages that major language that we have in Benin.

KIDJO

11:22:52
And our house where we grew up was a free zone speech house. My father said every single human being is welcome to this house. We can discuss every subject. There will never be any type of subject at the exception of racism and anti-Semitism and xenophobia. We can disagree, but it's never going to be in violence or hate. And suddenly that freedom is taken away because what they impose and create was paranoia.

KIDJO

11:23:23
They gear people against each other in the same family so you -- for the first time in my life, I have to experience what is called paranoia. Not being able to trust -- they try to crush my trust in my brother, my mother and my family because everybody spy. You don't know who is spying for the government. You -- one thing that is -- you just don't think is relevant to anything and you find yourself in jail.

KIDJO

11:23:46
And it has been like that so many innocent people have ended up in jail not even remembering or knowing what they said. So it becomes such a painful situation. That freedom that I was losing made me realize how much I cherish that freedom. And when you are on the verge of losing the freedom that you have then you fight. You do everything in your capacity to stop it, to keep it.

REHM

11:24:11
And of course your parents got you out of the country.

KIDJO

11:24:17
Well, they couldn't -- they were seeing me boiling up. They knew that I cannot keep my mouth shut when something is not right. And I've always been like that. And I did a concert for the economical meeting of the western leaders in Africa -- West Africa leaders. And you feel dirty when you get out of there because the way they look at you because you're a woman on stage, they think that you already a prostitute that's ready to sleep on the -- to sit on their lap.

KIDJO

11:24:44
And I just feel like it's about music here. I mean, we're talking about music and that's how you sing. And it's just like -- and I get out of there and I come back home. My father looked at me and said, oh boy. We got to do something. I said, dad, I can't stay anymore. I cannot do my arts the way I wanted to do it. You are the one that tell me not to link my music to any political party, and I don't want to do this. I just don't want to stay here. So from that moment on they all realized that my life was in danger if I don't leave because one day I'm going to say something and I'm going to end up in jail.

REHM

11:25:18
Angelique, I want to take you back to the very first time you sang before an audience. I love this story.

KIDJO

11:25:31
Well, my mom had a theater troop that she created. She wrote the piece. She does everything because she's a one-woman show. She did the costume and everything. And I will be all the time wandering around and I learn all the parts.

REHM

11:25:49
How old are you?

KIDJO

11:25:51
I was six.

REHM

11:25:51
Six.

KIDJO

11:25:52
So I learned all the songs, all the parts, talking...

KIDJO

11:25:55
You never read a note of music.

KIDJO

11:25:57
No.

REHM

11:25:59
But you learned.

KIDJO

11:26:00
I learned. My memory was -- my memory's one of the things that trigger my teacher in Paris that tell me, get out of here because I will kill my mom and dad for your memory. Get the hell out of here. Okay, bye, I'm out of here. And at six years old I was in the dressing rooms mingling and messing up with all the costumes as usual. And my mom came and said, now you're going on stage. I said, oh no, I'm not. She said, yes you're going. I said, no, I'm not.

KIDJO

11:26:28
By the time I was talking she pulled me out of the costumes, put the clothes on me. She said, you're going. I said, mom for real? She said, yes for real. The girls that...

REHM

11:26:35
Why?

KIDJO

11:26:36
Because the girl that played that part was sick. She was not coming in. She was not -- and at the time was -- I mean, the -- I got to go. So I was like, no mom, don't do this to me. Please, don't do this to me. And I was shaking. She shoved me on that stage and for the first -- I mean, I have the light -- the spotlight for the first time in my face. And I was so scared. People thought it was part of the play. So the whole public starts laughing. I'm like, huh, okay. Nobody's looking at me. I can just do my little thing and get the hell out of here.

KIDJO

11:27:10
So I sung very assertively (speaks foreign language) . And I sing my song and I walk away. And I said, mom how did I do? She looked at me and shake her head and said, um, you did good. And I was hooked from day one.

REHM

11:27:34
You were hooked.

KIDJO

11:27:36
Absolutely. Addicted to stage. I mean, I cannot see my life without stage. I mean, because of stage I can go to the studio because I had to adapt to studios. Not part of my culture. We, in Africa, when we do music we just decide that we're going to play. We get the drums out, we gather together, we have fun, we invite whoever is walking around. You can stop everything and do -- and just have the time to celebrate that moment. And if it's a joyful moment we all celebrate together. If it's a painful moment we all celebrate together.

KIDJO

11:28:06
So the first time I stepped a foot on the stage I say, this is too cold. You don't see the sun. You don't see the daylight. You in the darkness and you singing to a wall. What kind of singing is this?

REHM

11:28:20
But here is a song that we all love.

REHM

11:31:30
You are wonderful.

KIDJO

11:31:32
Thank you, Diane.

REHM

11:31:34
Tell me about "Eve."

KIDJO

11:31:36
"Eve" is a song that I wrote thinking about women friendship worldwide. And I call it from -- based on the name of my mom because my mom always liked to gather women together for women's right to vote, women's right to choose their partner of life, to do whatever they want to do. And I think it's important for all of us women to understand the power that we have and to bring that power together for solving conflicts.

KIDJO

11:32:13
And I'm dreaming of a coalition of women friendships around the world, for not one woman in the world to go through any hardship and feeling alone. When something's wrong is happening or when she's celebrating something for us all to celebrate it. And that's what "Ava" is about. "Eve" is about women friendship. Because Eve's story, the first woman, Eve's story had been told by men. We never have the part of the story from Eve. So we are defined by somebody else that told our story. Let's create our own story.

REHM

11:32:47
And you have done exactly that. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You say you wrote that song. How do you create your music without knowing a note of music?

KIDJO

11:33:09
I've always written music for -- with my ears. I just hear it in my head. And the first song I wrote I was 13 and the second I was 15. And because I have so much music memories in my head, and I memorize very fast music. And also there's something called inspiration. When I'm inspired I hear everything. And I just put everything on a tape recorder, not to -- because I don't -- I can't write the music.

REHM

11:33:37
Right.

KIDJO

11:33:37
I just put it there. And then when I come back to it I start seeing how they can get together. So for me, as the traditional musicians have explained to me and then when I ask them, what is the song about? What makes a song? And my aunties and my uncles told me that a song comes from a place where we don't have control over. When the song decides to come to give birth to itself, you just have to be the recipient of it. And the song comprises a few things, the words, the melody and the rhythm.

KIDJO

11:34:11
And once you have those, when they all come together and you start putting it together, once you finish you yourself cannot tell anyone, even remember yourself, which one come first. When you have that feeling, the song is right. That means so you can sing it alone, you can sing it with 10,000 people or anyone in the world can sing it because it's just the plain truth.

REHM

11:34:34
And what about the difference between that song and this book?

KIDJO

11:34:43
The book is harder to write. It took three years to put all those things together. But it's the same kind of process because since my father passed away, I've been -- the two, three years that follows has been a year of me to come to accept that he's no longer going to be here. So the process was for me to sit in front of a camera and talk and talk and talk and talk about all the good times that I spent with my father, all those wonderful opportunities that he has offered all of us, or still have the life that we have today because all my brothers and sisters, they have a job.

KIDJO

11:35:22
And I just see it as writing a song but a longer version of it to tell my story and to urge other people to tell the stories. Because each others' stories is really important for all of us to know it and to learn from it. And writing this book has been cathartic for me in the way that I accept that physically my father's gone, but spiritually he's always with me.

REHM

11:35:52
Always.

KIDJO

11:35:53
So that's what makes my day worth it every day.

REHM

11:35:56
And your mother?

KIDJO

11:35:59
Oh, my mom, she was a fierceful, I mean, warrior next to my father, right there hand in hand. When the family would come, she would just sit quiet and let them -- hear all they have to say. And she would turn around and say, what are you going to do? You going to give your kids to marriage? My father looked at her and said, don't even think about it. She said, I thought so. He goes, I'm here to -- I'm listening. What did you say? And my father would say exactly the same thing year after year.

KIDJO

11:36:29
And my momma have taught me how to be on stage. She always used to tell me, you can be sexy without being naked. To be sexy is the way you wear your clothes, is the way you hold yourself. Nakedness is vulgarity. You don't need to be there to be attractive. And when you got to that stage you have to be ready to be naked spiritually. If you're not in that mood, don't get out there. Nobody wants your misery on stage. They have enough of their misery. But the public that come here doesn't want to hear about your misery. They want you to speak to their soul. They want to connect to you.

REHM

11:37:03
Angelique Kidjo. I want our listeners to know there is both a slide show and a video of Angelique's photographs, her music on our website. Go to drshow.org.

REHM

11:39:58
I know many of you are fans of Angelique Kidjo and are waiting to speak with her. So we'll open the phones now. Her new book just released is titled, "Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music." And of course she is signing along with her own music here in the studio, which is absolutely marvelous. First, to Chris, in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.

CHRIS

11:40:32
Oh, good morning. It's a real pleasure to speak to Ms. Kidjo. I saw her in 1992 on the Africa Oye.

KIDJO

11:40:40
Yes.

CHRIS

11:40:40
In Philadelphia, before the rains opened up.

KIDJO

11:40:45
The rain's always followed me everywhere.

CHRIS

11:40:49
I'm a big fan of the older African music, you know, the '60s, '70s and '80s. And I was wondering what your thoughts on the current state of African music with the -- it seems to me most musicians seem to be copying the Western trends of rap and Coupe-Decale sort of African rap music and techno. And I was just wondering what do you think of the current trends and who are the up and coming stars in Africa that you enjoy?

KIDJO

11:41:16
Well, there are many of them. One of them is ASA, that is on the album. On the album also, I put the Trio Teriba. They are three girls from Benin that play all the instruments and sing. There are many young artists in Africa. And the question that you ask is a question that the young musicians in Africa always ask me, whey they bring their music and let me listen to it. And I always tell them, find within the music that you admire from America, from the rest of the world, find something that you can use within your own culture. And that's one thing that I've always done because I grew up pretty much surrounded by traditional music. And every music that come my way that I could not really understand, I always take it to the traditional musician and say, "Can you jam on this?"

KIDJO

11:42:00
And they will jam on it. And one thing that people seem to forget is that the Western music comes from Africa. Every single music started with the blues. The blues create rock and roll. The blues create the pop music, R&B and everything else. You listen to classical music -- if you know Bach, you listen to it, you have saraband, which was the music of the slave in Mexico. So for me I don't really understand how we can divide the music that come from America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America. We cannot separate them. We all belong to the same human family. We all have the same musical memory.

REHM

11:42:44
All right.

KIDJO

11:42:44
And then, for me, that's where the music lies.

REHM

11:42:46
To Jesus, in Weston, Fla. You're on the air.

JESUS

11:42:51
Hi. I'm a composer and everything. And I have been studying composition for a while. And this is my first time ever listening to Angelique's music. I had to stop my car and just listen to how beautiful this is.

KIDJO

11:43:03
Thank you so much.

JESUS

11:43:07
My question is have you seen your music impact the youth in Africa in any shape or form?

KIDJO

11:43:14
Oh, yeah. I mean the music goes beyond where I thought it went to. And when I start traveling with UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador that's when I really realized -- when my early video and my music -- how it has impacted people, how it has given women, young girls, identities. For them to realize that it's okay to be modern and be an African at the same time. And that's one thing that I grew up in that modernity because my parents have brought the world to me and I was lucky enough to be exposed to different kinds of culture.

KIDJO

11:43:51
So when I start doing my video I said to the director of the video, "I don't want no African cliche on me. I'm nobody's fantasma. I have a brain. I've been to school. I know what I want my image to be." And that image is the image of the young Africans. It has been like that and it will always be like that.

REHM

11:44:09
So describe that video that we have up on our website.

KIDJO

11:44:15
"Batonga" is a video that has been made with black light. And it was something that was really new because I wanted that technology to help me tell the story of empowerment, how each one of us can be the master of their own destiny. "Batonga" is about that for girls that go to school, and when they reach secondary education, the taunting that goes with it. So I want the girls in Africa -- that's why I call my foundation Batonga -- to have wings to be able to change Africa.

REHM

11:46:27
That voice of yours is so powerful.

KIDJO

11:46:30
Thank you.

REHM

11:46:31
I just love it.

KIDJO

11:46:34
Well, believe it or not, I was born asthmatic and I'm still asthmatic today.

REHM

11:46:38
Really?

KIDJO

11:46:38
Yeah, and my parents forced me to do sports. I used to run 1500 meter and swim. I swam so much one day my mom said, "You getting darker and darker."

REHM

11:46:48
Whoa. And that helped?

KIDJO

11:46:51
It helps a lot. And this song means a lot to me because when you're going to school and you reach secondary education and you're a girl, to stay in school is difficult because you're dealing with property and you're dealing with boys wanting you to drop out of school. That's why my foundation, I call it Batonga because that was a mantra word that I invented for myself to fight back bullying. Because if you bully me, I tell you Batonga. Because I was so mad and I'd come back home so mad and my father was telling me, "I told you don't get involved in any physical fight. You lose when you start doing that. Use your brain. Come up with something that's going to be a surprise for them and they won't understand it. They'll be more focused trying to understand what you're trying to say than to bully you."

KIDJO

11:47:33
So I come up with that word, which means for me, give me a break. I will be whoever I want to be and I will do whatever I want to do. Nobody defines me.

REHM

11:47:40
Tell me what happened when you first learned about apartheid, when you were 15.

KIDJO

11:47:48
Oh, by God, it's like my world just crumbled in pieces because here we are home, being told by Mom and Dad that we all belong to one human family, that a human being is not a matter of color, you cannot judge anybody according to the skin color of the person. And my father always said, "Don't come back here and tell me you failed because you're black because that's the first time you're going to see me mad. Because your brain has no color. Your soul has no color. And no one can tell you otherwise. If you believe it, you're a fool."

KIDJO

11:48:19
And here you are and then you're hearing Winnie Mandela talking about Nelson Mandela in jail, about apartheid and seeing images are really so violent. And I turn around to my father and say, "Why you lying to us? Why do you lie like that? This is still going on." And I heard about slavery -- I was nine years old. I was too young to understand what it meant. So suddenly both of them collided in my life. And I turn around -- I was so mad and I was screaming and crying. And my father keep his cool because father always say, "You start yelling at me, I don't talk back to you. I'll let you calm down. When you can use your brain wisely, we'll talk."

KIDJO

11:48:55
So I went to my room that I share with my sister, sat on that bed and took my notebook and started writing a song. And I came out a couple of hours later and I said to my brother, "This is the song I have." I start singing the song and it goes like this…

KIDJO

11:49:21
That is the second draft. The first draft was not poetic at all. It was hateful. And my father say, "No. No way. You're never going to write about hate in this house. Music has nothing to do with hate, it has nothing to do with violence. As an artist, you are the door opener. You are the one that has the key to open doors and build a bridge and you have to be the facilitator for conversation to continue. Once we lose our ability to discuss and we resume to war, we are, both sides, lost. So you never can do this. I understand that you're mad. I understand how bad you feel. It does not matter. That feeling, put in a positive thing. Write it differently."

KIDJO

11:50:00
So I went back and wrote this, which I said…

KIDJO

11:50:19
And what it said, I said, "The sun rise every day, everywhere with the same shining white, bright light on everybody black, white, yellow or red." In some countries black people are still suffering, in some they are not. How do we create a world where no one of any color should suffer? How can we create a world where every human being's life means the world for everybody? Each life has to be respected, it doesn't matter what language the person speaks, it doesn't matter what skin color the person has."

REHM

11:50:52
Tell me about your time with Nelson Mandela and…

KIDJO

11:51:01
It was really emotional, Diane. It was really, really emotional because it was 2003 and we were doing the first concert for his foundation 46664, which is jail cell number at Robben Island. And we went to visit Robben Island in his cell with him. And it was my first time in that cell. And I was like, look at me, I'm tiny and in this cell one hour I'd go crazy. I just can't. And how did he manage to stay on those two little blankets? It's not even a mattress. And, believe me, it's always cold on Robben Island. It's open to all wind. Even when you wear shoes, you're walking and you can feel the cold on the ground.

KIDJO

11:51:46
How can a human being go through this kind of suffering? And from the windows, you can see the courtyard where they used to break all those big (word?) . Those stupid work that they have to do. And we were all in that jail cell. It was emotional for all of us. And he put us at ease because for him it was the past. Now, how do we go from this moment and move forward? And I was still grappling with my feelings when we came out in the courtyard to take a picture with Nelson Mandela. And I was just like, I can't cry, Angelique. Keep up. I mean, you can't cry here. And I was trying to suck it in, and then he reached out to me.

KIDJO

11:52:25
He called me. He said, "Come here, my girl. Come, come here. Come." And I look around and he say, "No, no, you. Come, come, come. I'm talking to you. Come." So I came and he put his hand on my shoulder. He asked me where I was from. I said I was from Benin. And he said, "I'm glad to see you here. I'm glad to see Africa here, all Africa here." And I was just like, oh, Lord, help me. Then I had an opportunity to speak to him. And the ability that he had -- you can be surrounded by a whole city and Nelson Mandela would manage -- I don't know how he had that capacity -- to make a conversation with you and it's only you and the rest of the people around you don't matter anymore. And he listened to you and he talked to you.

KIDJO

11:53:10
It's not like talking to you and looking like we do sometime, looking at other people. He doesn't have time for anything else. He's focused on what you have to say.

REHM

11:53:20
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Did you sing for him?

KIDJO

11:53:25
Yes, I did. I did. I did sing for him. And I sang the song, "Africa," which is a song of blessing of my continent. And it goes like this.

KIDJO

11:53:56
And it's a blessing to Mother Africa. Where I'm saying, we all are Africans. If we keep on putting all our energy seeing the ugliness of Africa, who's going to see the beauty in us, if we see the ugliness in ourselves? And that song I had asked everybody to sing with me. And he was just like -- and you can see Nelson Mandela dancing and then every time I see him -- I did three concerts. And every time I see him and he goes, "Oh, you're here. So we're going to have fun, right?" I say, "Yes. We're going have fun."

REHM

11:54:28
You've dedicated your new album to the women of Africa, to their resilience and their beauty.

KIDJO

11:54:37
Yes.

REHM

11:54:38
Tell us why those two words?

KIDJO

11:54:41
Those two words are really not even enough to start talking about the African woman because I've been through experiences with those women that impact my sleep until today. When you sit down in the Darfur refugee camp in Chad, talking to women and years after what happened they're still crying, telling you what is going on. And story after story, you just want jump out of your body and run away. Horrific stories. But at the end of the day they say to us, "Whatever power you have, whatever you can do, go out there and do everything in your capacity for peace to happen, for us to go back home and get on with our life. We don't want to be victimized a second time. We've been victim enough. We don't want that. Don't present us as victims."

KIDJO

11:55:36
It has given me a strength beyond strength. And you go to places, you go to countries and you see that here was really not nothing, but the smile is there, the beauty's there, the elegance is there. Even if the fabric is run down, the way they wear it, their smile, the way they walk tall, I mean, that pride is something that if I can put in a bottle and I'll do that.

REHM

11:56:09
Angelique Kidjo, her new book is titled, "Spirit Rising." She has a brand new CD. You'll hear her, you'll see her at our website. I've loved being with you.

KIDJO

11:56:29
Me, too. It goes both ways. Two women talking about women. There's nothing better than that.

REHM

11:56:34
Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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