Kenyan village inspires Angelique Kidjo’s world music

Following the January release of a new album and an autobiography, world music vocalist and songwriter Angelique Kidjo kicked off her North American tour in Durham Wednesday.

She brings the show to McGlohon Theater Saturday.

The Beninese activist musician spoke to the Observer about “Eve,” her album dedicated to fellow African women and featuring female African choirs; her autobiography, “Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music”; and spreading a different sort of African history than the one in the news.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to incorporate female African choirs into each track on “Eve”?

A: In Kenya. I went to that village. The light bulb goes off in your head. They are among the poorest, but the smile on their faces, the brightness in their eyes, the joy – I don’t see any wealthy people that have that ever. It’s something you can’t buy.

Q: American celebrities would go in with a whole team. You just went and recorded them on your own?

A: I don’t have entourages. I’m very down to earth.

Q: In “Spirit Rising,” you write about what it was like growing up in Africa, which, apart from politics, isn’t something we learn about in school in the U.S. Was part of the idea to share the day-to-day reality?

A: People have different ideas about Africa. People think of Africa as a miserable place. Even though I was raised in a poor country and in a poor family, it was not that miserable.

Q: You also write about how African history isn’t really taught in school there either.

A: Absolutely. Today it’s like that. Who wrote the book that we study in Africa? I learned about the First and Second World War, the history of Europe. The books are brought by the ones that colonized and enslaved us. Who is going to tell the story about those that fought against slavery? Not the enslaver. We need to know better. That’s the only way we can change the face of the history.

Q: Your parents raised you as an independent thinker and fostered your singing career early on. What in their backgrounds made them so open-minded?

A: My grandmothers. They were strong women. That determination is passed on. My grandmother wanted my father to have a future. She didn’t send my father’s sister to school. Then she saw the benefits of my father going to school. Educating African women is key.

Q: Are things changing for the better?

A: The situation of women around the globe hasn’t changed that much. The transformation is for women to be able to be involved in government. These people (in power) are educated. Why is education so bad in America, for instance? If you give (poor children) an education then you can’t push them anymore, can’t tell them nonsense. You give people power to determine their lives. ... The one on top is the one that has a good education and the family that has the means to send them to school.