Oyo opens with “Zelie” a song written by Bella Bellow, a singer from neighboring Togo. Kidjo’s first foray into songwriting was a tribute to this lady who helped aspiring African girls believe that there was a place for them in popular music. A music career was a tenuous dream for women in most African nations due to religious, political or culture restrictions. South African singer Miriam Makeba helped break down barriers thanks to her international success; Kidjo honors her with a lullaby, “Lakutshona Llanga.”
“Kelele,” is a joyous tribute to West Africa’s “High Life” bands. These bands played in hotels and train stations to elite clientele. The music is high spirited featuring bright guitar chords and dance rhythms. Kidjo teams up with Brazilian guitarist Vinicius Cantuaria on “Afia,” an original composition that acknowledges Brazilian influence in Benin’s culture, brought to the country by natives who returned to their homeland after escaping slavery in South America. One of the most surprising songs is “Dil Mein Chhup Ke Pyar Ka Too” taken from a Bollywood soundtrack. Indian films have long been popular in African culture and this song captured the imagination of a young Kidjo.
As a native Francophone, Kidjo first sang American soul hits by mimicking the language. Now as an English speaker she is able to create her own interpretations of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” Aretha Franklin, Kidjo’s greatest influence, is honored by a voodoo inspired take on Franklin’s classic “Baby, I Love You.” Kidjo calls the piece “Monfe Ran E” and is joined by American jazz singe Dianne Reeves.
Kidjo’s voice is powerful and joyful but she can also slip into a nuanced style best heard on Sydney Bechet’s jazz standard, "Petite Fleur," which allows the Francophone to sing in the language of her youth. Oyo features several guests musicians and singers including trumpeter Roy Hargrove, soul singer John Legend and Irish rocker Bono of U2.
Now living in Brooklyn, Kidjo’s music continues to evolve by incorporating emerging American genres with her already wide expanse of influences. Hopefully, Kidjo’s music will reach young musicians throughout the world, expanding their vision of the world of music