If you have not seen the video on YouTube of Angélique Kidjo at the opening concert of the World Cup this past summer in South Africa, you should check it out. Kidjo opened her concert at Allegheny College last Saturday evening with the same song. Now her tour has her going to Belgium, France, Canada and back home to New York.
Here is a world-class, Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter who has performed with Dave Matthews, Ziggy Marley, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Peter Gabriel and Joss Stone, among others. But despite the wave of publicity surrounding her performance, only 300-some Allegheny students came to hear her sing. When I looked around at those students in attendance, I recognized many language students and international students. In that moment, I felt extremely proud of these ambassadors for the Year of Global Citizenship at Allegheny.
Although Angélique Kidjo sang in her native African language, Hindi, and English on Saturday, her music went well beyond language and traveled far outside any single genre. At one point, she objected outright to being pigeonholed. She accumulates references and speaks to and through all of them. And she is a masterful performer. Over the course of the evening, Kidjo took a rather quiet, subdued crowd and transformed it into one that was singing into the microphone and dancing on stage. She invited the audience to respond by degrees, never pushing too hard, but never leaving behind the dialogue she was engaged in. At the end of the evening, after she had warmed everybody up, Kidjo brought out her Conga drummer who provided the beat as people got down: children, parents, students, professors – alone, in pairs, in threes. I wasn’t at all convinced that Kidjo would return to the stage as the applause continued after her last song, but she did. In truth, she was one of the most generous performers I have ever seen. Although she is used to singing at sold-out venues, she was not thrown off by those seats that remained empty in Shafer Auditorium. Rather, Kidjo was focused on those who were there, as well as her message – participate, listen and respond in music, in dance, in advocacy and in conversation.
Angélique Kidjo brought the beginning of an important conversation to campus in her presence and her music. This conversation revolves around discussing what we share and how we are different and connects directly to the Year of Global Citizenship that still lies before us. So let us, together, start talking and listening. At one point during the concert, Kidjo said, “I think I like you. I think I might want to come back.” If she does, I sincerely hope – for us – that Shafer will be full.
Laura Reeck, Associate Professor of French