The drummer walked in first. The stage was bathed in a strobing blue light and he sat behind numerous percussion instruments. He started with his fingertips tapping the bongos. Then an additional drummer found a place behind the traditional drum kit and added his coloring of snare and high hat. Through just this percussion, the Michigan Theater auditorium filled up with the lushness of a chorus. A guitarist and bassist were the last to enter before the singer. The foursome introduced themselves to the audience, already improving and riffing off one another’s energy. Angelique Kidjo emerged from the shadows of the curtains with held her head high, strutting into the light with boots, a traditional headwrap, dress, gold hanging earrings and glittery tights.
Kidjo’s voice rang clear and percussive. It looked as if her body struggled to contain her energy as she stomped and swayed with her eyes closed. Each time I scribbled in my notebook to write something down, I was afraid I’d missed something during that short glance away.
According to the UMS website, Kidjo’s inspiration for covering Talking Heads’ seminal 1980 album Remain in Light was their heavy blues and rock influences that trace back to Africa. She wanted to pay homage to those roots, particularly West African music.
For the performance on Feb. 16, Kidjo stood alongside her band of Dominic James on guitar, Magatte Sow playing percussion, Michael Olatuja on bass and Yayo Serka on drums.
After just the first song, some audience members jumped to their feet and stood along the edges of the aisles. The bass thudded with vibrations that I felt in my feet, chest and throat.
I had to keep reminding myself that these weren’t her songs. Kidjo approached each song with such bravado that it felt like her own. A few rows ahead of me, a man began playing air drums in his seat. Her enthusiasm and vigor ran through each song like a bolt of electricity, bringing her own funk to the group’s classic quirky hits.
In one of the concert’s turning points, she threw her headscarf off and motioned for the audience to get on their feet and dance.
UMS volunteer and Ann Arbor resident Lili Henderson called Kidjo “a force of nature” with “such a big voice for a tiny woman, and a unifying one.”
Kidjo dedicated a cover to Tina Weymouth, the bass player of Talking Heads and Mother Earth. She spoke of the importance of the feminine and taking care of her and the women of her earth.
Later, the guitar, bass player and Kidjo formed a line to shuffle left to right according to her direction. Her swagger and confidence kept the crowd alight with excitement.
Kidjo introduced us to a new millenium. Before launching into one of the album’s most famous songs, “Once in a Lifetime,” she asked the audience to change who they are by accepting others. She emphasized the need for more compassion and empathy in the world, a way to give back to those around us. She then ran through the aisles of the audience, directing us like a conductor above a sea of people.
Back on stage, she invited those who wanted to dance to come forward, calling men, women and children. A little boy began breakdancing while the percussionist with a drum thrown over his shoulder clapped him on. Men and women got on stage dancing and daring each other to battle against the drummer and Kidjo, who kept pulling new people into the dance circle.
After the show, Amy Moore, an audience member, approached me to ask about the notebook I was holding. She wanted to tell me what she witnessed.
“Angelique Kidjo is what the world needs now,” Moore said. “And, her show is fantastic.”