Monday, January 24, 2011

Angelique Kidjo Invokes the Spirits

by Susan Kepecs

When I learned that “Bud Light Capitol Concerts” (aka Frank Productions / True Endeavors, in partnership with the Overture Center) was presenting Angelique Kidjo on Sat., Jan. 22, I asked a friend who’s a fan, like me, if she wanted to go.  “Meh,” she said, “I’ve seen Angelique tons of times.”  I was going come hell or high water; reluctantly, at the last minute, my friend agreed to come, too.  She was glad she did.  The show, which packed the Capitol Theater, proved once again that for the sake of your soul you can’t afford to miss the Queen from Benin when she’s in town.
Kidjo, backed by a tight four piece band, served up an energetic two hour set.  She looked a little heavier than last time she was here, at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2008, and though she still has every bit of that powerhouse voice I thought she might be starting to show her age till she let loose with her signature dance steps about a third of the way through. Her material, from start to finish, was bright and fresh, and the event proved to be the gathering of the tribes that Kidjo shows always are.
Most of the diverse tunes were off her Grammy nominated 2010 Razor and Tie release, Oyo, an album dedicated to songs that inspired her childhood; the traditional “Atcha Houn,” which she described, strutting around the stage, as the first piece she ever sang onstage, at the age of six; the gentle “Lakutshona Llanga,” in homage to the late Miriam Makeba; compelling covers of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” and Aretha Franklin’s “Baby I Love You.”  In memory of her father, who, she told the audience, used to play everything on the banjo from Beethoven to Sidney Bechet, Kidjo offered a remarkable rendition of the latter’s “Petite Fleur.”  
Oyo’s a satisfying recording, but Kidjo’s at her best live onstage, partly because her performance personality’s so strong but also for the celebratory rituals she does that take everybody in the house to a higher place.  I’ve seen people dance during encores twice in Overture Hall – once when the Neville Brothers, during their Mardi Gras bash in ’09, cast their spell on our lazy bones, and again a month later Afro-Cuban Allstars filled the big hall with aché. But Kidjo’s show this weekend was the first time I’ve ever seen the crowd get loose enough in the upscale Overture Center to stand and dance through most of the show. 
Some folks were boogieing in the aisles by the third tune, and by the time Kidjo invoked the spirit, as she always does, dancing through the theater laying hands on the audience and singing her anthem, “Afirika,” everybody was belting out the chorus and getting’ down. A jubilant bunch, including the hosts of WORT’s Pan-Africa show Alhaji Njai and DJ Linda, followed Kidjo back onto the stage, dancing like wildfire with her Senegalese sabar player, whose name I wish I’d written down. Those who didn't wrap up the show under the proscenium arch were rockin’ in their rows till the very last note.