Angélique Kidjo’s reimagining of Remain In Light brought the iconic album to life in new ways at her release day show in London. Kidjo, accompanied by an 8-piece band, amplified Talking Heads’ Afrobeat-inspired polyrhythms whilst eschewing their electronic-tinged jitteriness in favour of uplifting brass sections and infectiously danceable percussion. Incorporating new lyrics sung in her mother tongue, Kidjo made the album’s theme of loss of identity feel personal to her upbringing in Benin and forced relocation from it. Together with songs from her Grammy Award-winning career that shared these concerns, the concert felt like a dialogue between herself and the questions posed by the band over 30 years previously.
The band was driven by the propulsive drumming of Senegalese percussionist Magatte Sow, who launched into an explosive opening djembe drum solo before Kidjo took the stage. Kidjo began with ‘Born Under Punches’ and ‘Crosseyed and Painless’, whose agitated dynamics and frenetic guitar licks were replaced with horns that gave a refined, danceable beat Kidjo capitalised on by breaking into dance at the first opportunity.
After this intense start the tempo changed with ‘Cauri’, a song Kidjo wrote and dedicated to the plight girls suffer globally as child brides instead of gaining an education. The sparse instrumentation accented the sobering lyrics and ebbed underneath Angelique’s powerful vocals. ‘Listening Wind’, which expresses the pain of colonialism continued the solemnity with Angelique’s voice and Sow’s djembe playing giving it new poignancy, as it’s a past their homelands have both suffered. The tension of these songs was ended by a cathartic saxophone solo before ‘The Great Curve’ and ‘Pata Pata’ by legendary South African singer Miriam Makeba brought hope and light back to the forefront.
The earthy, natural timbre of Sow’s West African talking drum on the former, which has gained prominence from its use on the Black Panther score, perfectly exhibited the connection to Mother Earth that ‘The Great Curve’ details as it swelled to a cacophony of sound. The audience needed little coaxing to dance to Afropop classic ‘Pata Pata’ and Kidjo kept this momentum through ‘The Overload’ and ‘Houses In Motion’ before demonstrating her mastery of live performance in her song ‘Africa’. It celebrates our shared humanity and Kidjo taught the audience the chorus before coming into the stalls to share the moment with her fans, who sang, danced and clapped with her. ‘Once In A Lifetime’ finished Kidjo’s homage to Remain In Light, with Kidjo’s powerful vocal soaring over the regal brass section as the crowd sang along.
Back on stage, she described it as “heaven on earth where all pain is forgotten” and invited fans to join her on ‘Tumba’. The stage was packed with fans and more percussionists as Kidjo made space for those brave enough to express themselves through dancing solo. Many did before Kidjo began a coordinated dance that all joined her in. Leaving the crowd still dancing, everyone left the stage beaming before Kidjo returned for an encore of ‘Burning Down The House’ where she once again went into the stalls and sang with the crowd as all celebrated their love of music together.