“People say that if you're from Africa, you can't wear pink or speak good English,” said Angelique Kidjo before tearing into her version of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimmie Shelter,” a song included on her latest disc, Djin Djin. I am from Africa, an I am entitled to sing anything I want.”
Backed by a seven-piece band, the N.Y.-based/Benine-born singer showcased a lot of material from her latest release, Djin Djin (Razor & Tie) along with material from previous CDs; one song that stood out was “Mama Golo Papa,” a song that she described as being about worshiping God as “a God of love, not as an excuse to kill someone.” She also went into a Caribbean direction when she performed a salsa timba (a Cuban-inspired tune with jazzy elements) that got the audience moving into a dance frenzy; halfway through the song, she screamed “azúcar” in what seemed to be a homage to the late Celia Cruz, the “queen of salsa” who played her last concert at this very stage in the summer of 2001.
Another highlight was “Senamou,” a tune that features Amadou & Mariam on the disc; in the live setting, she didn't seem to miss their presence, singing with plenty of soul and passion. She then went on into a sing-along session with “Axe Mama Africa,” which she described as a “blessing song.” She taught the audience the chorus, and everyone responded well, which prompted her to comment that “here in New York, you only have to do this once and everybody is singing.”
As the concert drew to a close, she invited people to bring their children onstage (which caused security to cringe a bit), and went into a funk-inspired, mostly instrumental tune and asked everyone to dance. “You only live once, you know,” she said. Brazilian-born percussionist Meia-Noite then took a drum to the front of the stage, and Kidjo danced a few steps, and then the others followed suit. One man who was accompanying a small child then wowed both the singer and the crowd with his fluent, improvised moves that seemed to draw from capoeira and salsa.
She closed with an extended version of “Tumba,” one of her biggest hits to date. Her wireless microphone began to malfunction, and she walked to one of the backing vocal mikes as the Summerstage technicians solved the problem. During that number, she introduced the members of the band, who showcased their individual chops. Once again Meia-Noite shone by leading the dance with his syncopated beats.
The singer left the stage to wild applause, but did not return for an encore due to time constraints. The fans were thoroughly satisfied with Kidjo, who delivered a high-energy concert that left everyone wanting more.