Like many artists, Grammy-winning Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo — whom Time magazine once called “Africa’s premier diva” — has felt the staggering effect of the coronavirus crisis, which forced the cancellation of her Daughter of Independence concert at Carnegie Hall on Saturday.
“It’s a good thing and a real sad thing at the same time,” Kidjo tells The Post after finding out Thursday afternoon that her show was canceled. “People have to be safe. Right now, I mean, our lives are in danger with this virus. The concert, we can reschedule — it can happen anytime.”
Kidjo and her band were in rehearsals in Brooklyn when they got the news that Carnegie Hall was canceling all performances from Friday through March 31.
“I’m disappointed, because I was ready, and we worked so hard to prepare this show,” she says. “But there’s always a blessing when something like that happens. That’s my take on it.”
Hours before the event was called off, the coronavirus fallout was on Kidjo’s mind as she spoke to The Post on the phone from her Park Slope home. “It’s crazy,” she says. “I have a friend that arrived yesterday from France and is back at the airport trying to go back.”
In fact, two of the special guests who were scheduled to perform with Kidjo had already canceled their appearances before Carnegie Hall pulled the plug: Baaba Maal, who was in New York, was heading back to Senegal, while Cameroonian great Manu Dibango, 86, didn’t even make the trip because, says Kidjo, “he’s too old to be traveling like that.” The other two guests — Brittany Howard and Nigeria’s Yemi Alade — were already in New York and had planned to appear.
The concert was set to celebrate Kidjo’s 60th birthday — which is actually July 14 — as well as the 60th anniversary of Benin gaining independence from France, just about two weeks after the singer was born. That’s why she calls herself a “daughter of independence.”
“When I was a little child, I felt that sense of freedom,” she says. “I felt that I was free to go from one house to the other with no fear at all, that nothing ever could happen to me. And that’s what I want to celebrate.”
Kidjo had another reason to celebrate in January, when she won her fourth Grammy, taking home the gramophone for Best World Music Album for “Celia,” her tribute to Cuban legend Celia Cruz. She also performed through sadness during the Grammy pre-telecast show at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. “I walked in, and then the news broke that Kobe Bryant just died. It just killed my energy right there,” she says. “So we celebrated [his life], and I was singing thinking of him.”
Although born and raised in Benin, in West Africa, Kidjo has called Brooklyn home for 20 years. “When I arrived [in New York] in 1997, I was living in Hell’s Kitchen, 55th between Eighth and Ninth. My daughter [Naïma] was 4 at that time, and she couldn’t handle the noise. Manhattan was too noisy for her.”
But she’s still giving back to the women of Africa, empowering them with her Batonga Foundation. “My mom is an example for me,” Kidjo says. “[She] was a strong advocate of girls’ education, that we have the right to go to school.”
And Kidjo is still proudly representing Mother Africa on the global stage. “African music is everywhere,” she says. “We can fool ourselves . . . that every music comes from the Western world. Hell no! We all come from Africa. Africa is the creator of humanity.”
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