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Live Review: Angelique Kidjo

9 April 2012 | 3:11 pm | Paul Smith

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Touring Australia with a full band for the first time, Keb' Mo' appeared as relaxed as his smoky deep south voice. His songs maintained an obvious blues tone, but were given a modern contemporary edge with some elements of pop and plenty of soul thrown in. Extended instrumentals were tight yet appeared to have the carefree feel of a jam about them, whilst if the drummer was any more laidback he'd have slipped off the riser. Government Cheese was as easygoing a blues sound as they come, whilst the anti-materialistic We Don't Need It was beautifully emotive. Some swirling organ sounds gave an added funk groove to The Whole Enchilada whilst other moments embraced a pumping and rolling sound. With the apparent ease of playing echoing the vibe of the music, this was as good a blues set you would see anywhere.

Angelique Kidjo stepped out onto the stage in unassumingly quiet fashion and commenced with an a cappella Atcha Houn as her full four-piece took their places. Things then built up slowly through some soft rhythms and the Latino/African blend of Afia, which just teased at what was to come. And then she exploded into action. The pumping beat of Kelele became thunderous in volume as the full energy of an Angelique Kidjo show was unleashed. At times the sounds actually became so powerful they were almost violent, with her percussionist a powerforce behind the bongo and other drums, yet her vocal was always a match for it. In the well-received Malaika her voice somehow managed to be both sweet and aggressive whilst her musical styles varied throughout, no more so than with the unusual African meets Bollywood mix of Aan, a song affectionately titled by Kidjo that she explained she and her friends made up when they were kids watching Bollywood movies.

With her obvious passion always at the core of her music, both her commanding stage presence and sheer volume demanded to be heard. Whilst Bono may talk about humanitarian issues, Kidjo has lived through much of what she speaks about and wants to change in her native Africa. Her spirit in doing so and her charismatic delivery of emotional tales that ranged from her father's influence on her, experiences of life in her native Benin and her own hopes and dreams for her homeland were as infectious as the beats in her music. Everybody wanted to at least touch her as she wandered through the audience singing Afrika. Several of them were then invited on stage to join in a totally celebratory rendition of Agolo. At one point Kidjo pleaded from stage “Please enjoy life” – she certainly is and on evidence of this show is doing all she can to make sure everyone else does too.