ANGÉLIQUE KIDJO WITH THE ROYAL SCOTTISH NATIONAL ORCHESTRA
ROYAL CONCERT HALL, GLASGOW
Glasgow’s huge international folk roots festival Celtic Connections has played host to some remarkable collaborations over the years. Few can have been quite as memorable as this exceptional concert bringing together the extraordinary Beninese diva Angélique Kidjo, Luxembourgian composer Gast Waltzing and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
Originally premièred by the Orchestra Philharmonique du Luxembourg, the show is comprised mainly of Waltzing’s orchestral arrangements of songs from Kidjo’s three decade-long career. Singing with the RSNO, under Waltzing’s baton, Kidjo is the first to admit that the combination of her music (a fusion of traditional African song with Afropop, among many other influences) with a European classical orchestra is an unlikely one.
There is, indeed, a particular freedom in the beat and rhythm of many of Kidjo’s songs that seems barely compatible with the European classical tradition. Yet this collaboration, which is the brainchild of Waltzing, is a genuinely inspired one.
Kidjo’s songs, which she sings principally in Fon and Yorùbá (the two native languages of Benin in which she is fluent), do seem a little constrained at times. Yet, they also gain a sense of gravitas by being supported by a full orchestra.
Take the hit song Agolo, for example. Originally an upbeat, jazzy African pop song, it takes on a new, elevated quality in the hands of Waltzing and the swirling strings of the RSNO.
There is less sense of transformation in Kidjo’s rendition of Gershwin’s Summertime, a staple of her repertoire. The song plays effortlessly across the divide between show band and orchestra, and it is truly wonderful to hear it sung in a West African language by Kidjo, whose voice has strengthened and deepened over the years, without losing any of its remarkable power and range.
There are, between songs, plenty of jokes with the audience and a smattering of autobiographical anecdotes. As ever with Kidjo (who is a tireless humanitarian), there are also numerous references to her cherished causes, not least projects supporting girls’ education in Africa.
Ultimately, the warm rapport which Kidjo builds with her audience enables her, by the time she reaches her tribute to her home continent, Afirika, to get the entire crowd on its feet. Working the room like a musical evangelist, high-fiving fans as she goes, this phenomenon of African popular music not only punctures the formality of the orchestral concert, she obliterates it entirely.
The Celtic Connections festival continues until February 1. For more information, visit: celticconnections.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on January 18, 2015
© Mark Brown