Angelique Kidjo’s Remain In Light
Global pop star and 3-time Grammy winner Angélique Kidjo has partnered with 2015 Grammy producer of the year Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, The Rolling Stones, Beyonce) for a full circle re-imagining of Talking Heads’ 1980 landmark album Remain in Light. The original album, considered to be one of the greatest albums of that decade, was influenced by music from West Africa, notably Fela Kuti’s afrobeat. This remarkable new collaboration is a radical statement and positions the Benin-born artist as she’s never been heard before.
The diverse cast of collaborators includes Fela Kuti’s musical director Tony Allen on drums, Alicia Keys, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Roots drummer Questlove, Black Panther film score percussionist Magatte Sow, Blood Orange’s Davonté Hynes, the Antibalas horns, legendary bassist Pino Paladino, Angélique’s longtime guitarist Dominic James, and African jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke among others. The album artwork was conceptualized by noted African-American visual artist Kerry James Marshall, who counts the original album as an important creative touchstone.
Kidjo first crossed paths with the original album when she fled Benin and moved to Paris in 1983. She recognized it as African, but the rhythms were harder for her to place. It stayed with her, but she kept it to herself because some of her music teachers and fellow students at the time dismissed her opinions because she was a young African woman who wouldn’t, in their opinion, know anything about rock and roll. But the album continued to inhabit her subconscious.
“It was a challenge reinterpreting this iconic masterpiece,” says Bhasker. “We didn’t simply want to “cover” what Brian Eno and Talking Heads created, but rather put our own spin on it. Rip out its guts and turn it on its head. As they were inspired to take an African form and rock it, we took rock and brought it back to Africa. I think the result is a beautiful full circle experience that I hope enhances both worlds and brings culture closer together.”
Remain in Light is made anew. The first clue is the stunning new black light photo of Kidjo by Kerry James Marshall. The African-ness of the sound comes out in same mesmerizing African polyrhythms that made the original so ground-breaking, but there are also different languages echoed in counter melodies of the haunting “The Overload,” the edgy “Listening Wind” and others that are added by Kidjo.
The delivery of David Byrne’s lyrics is a classic study in contrasts while embracing the bigger ideas. Whereas the vocals were originally self-conscious, arty, ironic and sometimes alienated, Kidjo’s voice and additional lyrics are a clarion call that sheds new light on the politics in “Born Under Punches,” the empowerment of women on the “Great Curve” and tackling the African skin bleaching phenomenon on “Seen and Not Seen.”
“When it comes to music, I don’t have much fear,” says Kidjo, who is also well known for her humanitarian efforts. “If you are inspired to do something, then there is truth in that. My music has been a weapon for constructing bridges. We have so much in common, yet we are so divided that we may not take a pause to think about what we may have in common. We think there is things to divide us, but not much divides us.”