Angelique Kidjo first heard “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads in 1983 while she was at a college party in Paris.
Being a recent transplant from Benin, West Africa, she immediately recognized the African-inspired rhythms that the Talking Heads were using on their landmark 1980 album, “Remain in Light.”
Even though the song stuck will her, Kidjo didn’t hear the rest of the album until decades later when her husband, French musician Jean Hébrail, heard her humming the tune. Kidjo finally listened to the album in full in 2016 and not only heard those familiar African beats, but also a political and social anxiety that was, not only all too familiar to her upbringing in a Benin dictatorship, but also prevalent in the world’s current nervous times. That is when she knew that she needed to cover “Remain in Light” in its entirety.
In the intervening decades between first hearing “Once in a Lifetime” and all of “Remain in Light,” Kidjo built an acclaimed music career and a reputation as one of Africa’s greatest cultural ambassadors and cross-over stars.
Her album “Djin Djin” won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Album in 2008, her album “Eve” won for Best World Music Album in 2015, and her orchestral album, “Sings with the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg,” won the Grammy for Best World Music Album in 2016.
Her commanding voice and cultural fluency has earned her several titles such as “Africa’s premier diva” from Time Magazine and one of The Guardian’s 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World. Kidjo, ironically, even found an early fan in the Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne.
To record her reinterpretation of “Remain in Light,” Kidjo enlisted Jeff Bhasker who has worked with other superstars like Kanye West, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and Drake. Collaborators on the album include Fela Kuti’s legendary drummer and afro-beat innovator Tony Allen, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, and Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes. The reinterpretations draw even more heavily from African music with infectious rhythms, trance inducing percussion, bouncy African guitars, layered backing vocals, and some re-written lyrics. The result is a highly energetic and joyful take on the Talking Heads’ often dark and anxious record.
Kidjo’s “Remain in Light” begs to be heard live and she debuted it in 2017 at Carnegie Hall and then the Bonnaroo Festival followed by concerts all over the world. Savannah audiences may be familiar with Kidjo’s electrifying performance at the 2008 Savannah Music Festival and will get a chance to see her current musical extravaganza when she performs “Remain in Light” at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts on April 6. It promises to be a fiery festival highlight for any kind of music lover.
“The audience gives me energy, so I have to give it back,” Kidjo has said in her website’s bio. “If I kept it, I wouldn’t be able to sleep for days.”