CD review: Angélique Kidjo's 'Oyo'

Angélique Kidjo doesn't need gimmicks; her voice carries her new album.
Angélique Kidjo doesn't need gimmicks; her voice carries her new album. (Alexei Hay)
Friday, March 26, 2010

ANGÉLIQUE KIDJO

"Oyo"

Kindred spirits: Miriam Makeba, Rokia Traoré, Dobet Gnahore

Show: Saturday at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium. Show starts at 8 p.m. 202-994-6800. http://www.lisner.org.

On her latest album, Angélique Kidjo employs not one but two familiar gimmicks. "Oyo" pairs the Benin-bred New Yorker with prominent guest stars and revisits cherished songs from her youth. Neither ploy, however, really defines the project. "Oyo" is mostly just another Angélique Kidjo album, which is not a bad thing at all.

The singer's old favorites include several American soul classics, including James Brown's "Cold Sweat." Kidjo is joined by John Legend and the ubiquitous Bono for a version of Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up" and by Dianne Reeves for Aretha Franklin's "Baby, I Love You." There are also two songs from movies (the theme to "Out of Africa" and a vintage Bollywood number) as well as an urbane reading of Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur," a jazzy ballad.

Some of these experiments work, but many of the set's highlights are entirely African and uncluttered by Western pop stars. Whether as exuberant as "Kelele" or as gentle as "Lakutshona Llanga" (from the songbook of longtime Kidjo inspiration Miriam Makeba), these tunes are fine showcases for Kidjo's voice, a limpid instrument that's capable of the occasional growl. Such diverse material doesn't make for an especially cohesive album, but Kidjo's vocals have the power to hold it together.

-- Mark Jenkins


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