With the release of Oyaya!, Angélique has completed her trilogy of albums from the African diaspora with a great Latin album. We snatched an interview with the global music traveller herself.
You were brought up in Ouidah, referred to as the ‘Voodoo capital of Benin’ and I guess that means because of the importance of Benin to Santéria, Candomblé and Haitian Voodoo, you were raised in the very heart of this amazing spiritual and cultural force. How has that experience affected your last three album projects?
I am not a very religious person, but this culture, its dance, music and myths were part of my childhood. When I arrived in those parts of America where this culture has survived, I was able to connect instantly with the people: we’re sharing the same language through music!
We live in a period in which the sense of community is so strong. I understand it but I don’t think is it a good thing. My music is about breaking barriers
What did you take from the process of writing new material rather than covering classic songs?
If you look closely at the credits you’ll find that I collaborated a lot in the writing of this music: with Branford Marsalis or Carlinhos Brown. Of course I learned a lot musically and humanly too.
What effect do you hope your focusing on the music of the Caribbean, the US and Brazil will have on the ‘trade route’ of music between these areas?
I hope it will open doors in both directions: people who just listen to Latin music will maybe interested in hearing more African music and know more about African culture. And the other way around too. We live in a period in which the sense of community is so strong. I understand it because it gives a sense of security but I don’t think is it a good thing. My music is about breaking barriers!
What struck me is the energy and the strength of the African people and especially the kids. My song Mutoto Kwanza is a tribute to them. I hope it will transmit their voice through music.
Which places did you visit that had a profound effect on you in relation to your latest albums?
After my trip to Salvador de Bahia for the album Black Ivory Soul, I really felt how strongly the music makes the people come closer. In Cuba, in Jamaica, it is the same: like in Benin, music is part of daily life, everybody sings or dance, the music is in the streets not just in concert halls. I tried to capture this energy in Oyaya! The whole album was recorded live and almost all the vocals were recorded live with the musicians.
You have also played with some of the greatest musicians around. Which have had the most profound effect on your music and outlook on life?
In every great music, it is hard to separate the person and the playing. One’s music is the expression of one’s personality and culture. Through my journey in the Americas, I have been lucky to meet many great personalities.
You tour extensively and reside in New York currently after years in Europe. How do you deal with being so far from your source?
In fact I am travelling so much that I could say home is everywhere! I live by the day and of course maybe one day I will have a house in Benin and live there.
You wrote Mutoto Kwanza while serving as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF in response to the suffering of Tanzanian children with HIV and AIDS. Do you see hope amongst all the pain on the continent today?
What struck me during my visit to Tanzania, is the energy and the strength of the African people and especially the kids. My song Mutoto Kwanza is a tribute to them. I hope it will transmit their voice through music.
Your music has continually defied the expectations of music purists. You must be very tired of defending yourself from this area but do you feel your work has been more about ‘routes’ music than ‘roots’ music?
Great definition! You can be assured that I will use your expression in my next interviews!