Head's Blog: Speaking Out!

Head's Blog

Speaking Out!

While enjoying the rain in our cottage in Wales with some friends this Easter, we were stuck without Wi-Fi and, in that very old-fashioned way, turned to listening to CDs to drown out the hammering of the raindrops on the slate roof.

This disc by Angelique Kidjo caught my ear. And, once back in the land of google, some research on its author inspired this week’s assembly on her wonderful career of music and activism.


Perhaps you saw the ‘diva of Africa’ at the opening of the Tokyo Olympics or on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The Beninese-French singer-songwriter, actress and activist has certainly used her voice to speak out and there is a great deal we can all learn from her.

Kidjo first gained fame in Paris in the 1980s, where she moved to be educated and avoid conflict in her home country. She initially planned to become a human rights lawyer but ended up studying music. In her 40-year career she has recorded with everyone from U2 to Alicia Keys, from Philip Glass to Burna Boy. Angelique has spent her life speaking out and using her voice to highlight the causes she might have supported in her alternate life as a human rights lawyer.

She is fluent in five languages: Fon, French, Yorùbá, Gen (Mina) and English and has sung in all of them, as well as her own personal language.

The Batonga Foundation, named for her signature song, is a particularly inspiring venture which provides Benin’s most vulnerable and marginalised women and girls with the knowledge and skills they need to take control of their own lives. The origin story of the word ‘Batonga’ goes back to childhood, when Angelique and her girlfriends were harassed by boys trying to put them off attending school. Rather than get angry when teased, the girls repeated this invented word, irritating the boys no end because they didn't know its meaning! In Kidjo's mind, it meant 'Leave me alone. I can be whoever I want to be'. CLICK HERE to view video link. .

In addition to spearheading this organisation Angelique has been a UN Goodwill Ambassador since 2002 and visited and campaigned on issues world-wide, with a focus on those affecting African women. This includes fundraising to eradicate tetanus and highlighting the disproportionate negative effects of climate change on women in developing nations.

Anglique is also a great role model in her musical openness - she is unafraid to try new things and show curiosity through genre-hopping, taking inspiration from a huge variety of influences including recent tributes to Talking Heads and Celia Cruz or her project highlighting the new crop of African artists.

So, this weekend, as well as Taylor’s latest effort, perhaps you can take inspiration from investigating Angelique Kidjo as a wonderful example of ‘speaking out. Click here to watch a video.