Prom 16: Angélique Kidjo

“Described as ‘the undisputed queen of African music’, three-time Grammy Award-winner Angélique Kidjo makes her Proms debut with her nine-piece band in late-night tribute to the celebrated salsa songstress Celia Cruz.” [BBC Proms website]


Reviewed by: Elizabeth Jones

Reviewed: 30 July, 2019
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

BBCProms 2019's Prom 16Angélique KidjoPhotograph: Mark Allan / BBCThe arrival of the Beninese-born “queen of African music” was transmitted in timeless fashion by Magatte Sow’s thrilling rapid-fire djembe-style drumming – and on she strode in traditional dress for a hit from her 2002 album Black Ivory Soul.

Angélique Kidjo’s muse is the late Cuban salsa superstar Celia Cruz, and much of the night was devoted to this genre including Quimbara accompanied by Kidjo’s strutting cockerel-dancing. Heating up after her cover of Talking Heads’ Crosseyed and Painless she flung off her shocking-pink headdress revealing her shaven head, took a sip of water and shouted “Let’s have fun! I grew up in Benin and thought salsa male music, then came Celia Cruz – now nothing is impossible.” The salsa continued with Toro Mata, accompanied by jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca in trademark hat who played only a few bars yet it was enough to get the audience dancing.

At last, a change of the relentless Afro-Salsa tempo as the rhythm slowed for Kidjo’s glorious Sahara, sung with bass-guitar accompaniment. We could finally hear her operatic sure-footed vocals which had been crowded out by the band. Once in a Lifetime, from her 2018 album Remain in the Light, followed, and others, with yet-more of Sow’s talking drums and Kidjo’s clapping. Kidjo and her band are certainly crowd-pleasers.

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