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Angelique Kidjo - 'Remain In Light' Album Review


1. Born Under Punches

2. Crosseyed And Painless

3. The Great Curve

4. Once In A Lifetime

5. Houses In Motion

6. Seen And Not Seen

7. Listening Wind

8. The Overload

On 'Remain In Light', Talking Heads, fourth studio album, they experimented with African polyrhythms, most notably Nigerian musician Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, Funk, and Electronics, recording instrumental tracks as a series of looping grooves. Angélique Kidjo fled her native Benin and ended up in Paris in 1983. As Western popular music was scarce in her homeland she set about listening to and absorbing as much as she could. The one album that stood out for her, because of it's African influences was 'Remain In Light'. So now she has taken the album full circle with a track-by-track re-imagination of the original, which is considered to be one of the greatest albums of the 80s.

This album has more depth and context as Angelique fills it with her powerful vocals combined with explosive percussion and sublime horn orchestrations. Some of the backing vocals are performed in languages from her home country. 'Remain In Light 'features appearances by Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, Blood Orange, Tony Allen, Antibalas Horns, Angélique’s longtime guitarist Dominic James, and Magatte Sow (percussionist for the Black Panther film score).

The Album starts with 'Born Under Punches' with dark and dusky chants. The reference to the 'Government Man' takes on a whole new meaning given the African connection. The darkness of this version brings to mind corruption and the way Angelique sings "Don't you miss it" re-enforces this along with “Don’t play with fire,” a lyric sang in the Beninese language Fon. 'Crosseyed And Painless' is closer to the original, the differences being excerpts from a Fela song, 'Lady' and the percussion and sublime horns. 'The Great Curve' starts with a catchy chant and the percussion takes centre stage instead of guitar riffs. This song is so obviously about the empowerment of women, with the strong vocal delivery from Angelique and her emphasis on 'she'. The horns again are prevalent in this track giving punctuation to some of the stronger lyrics. Whilst the lead track of the original album, 'Once In A Lifetime', is fairly true to the original, the use of horns, the backing vocals and the lightness make this a more uplifting number. Whereas David Byrne delivered it in an evangelical manner, Angelique gives this a more euphoric feel, which changes the emphasis of song. The ending is a glorious crescendo of horns and drums.

The Spoken lyrics in 'Houses In Motion' are spoken in Angelique's mother tongue and this along with the backing lyrics, sets this apart from the original. Although the spoken words on 'Seen And Not Seen' are the same lyrics, the delivery is completely different. This coupled with the melancholy backing vocals and the percussion, changes the message from simply a desire to blend in, to striving to appear more western, with practices such as skin bleaching. This makes this a far stronger and poignant track for me..One of the songs that really changes emphasis on this album is 'Listening Wind', which really changes context due to the narration. This version really seems to be far more personal. The instrumentation is simple so that the vocal dominates, along with the sorrowful backing vocals. Real suddenness about the gentrification of Africa by westerners flows through this number, especially during the outro. 'The Overload' starts with Angelique Kidjo's voice, which is all that is needed to convey the feeling of sorrow. The vocals are crisp and clear, the instrumentation simple and understated and “Don’t forget the legacy of our ancestors,” is sang in Yoruba as a backing.

Angelique Kidjo was exposed to a wider audience in BBC's Biggest Weekend, and seemed to wow the crowds, so maybe a new generation will appreciate this album in a new way, without making comparisons with the original album.

This is an album of African music, which has taken a piece of work released nearly 40 years ago and has brought it full circle. Who is to say that this is not how the album should have sounded. Even behind the more carnival sounding numbers there are serious messages.

Even if you are not a fan of 'World' music, or even not a fan of Talking Heads', you cannot fail but to appreciate this re-aligning of one of the most iconic albums of the 80s. This album is more authentic and, dare I say, better than the one that Angelique was so taken by in Paris, back in 1983.

'Remain In Light' is released on 8th June via Kravenworks Records.

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Review - Tony Creek

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