When Angélique Kidjo accepted her Grammy Award in 2015, she bounded onto the stage amid elated dancing. Her energy was absolute and all-encompassing, showcasing the power of a true artist in every sense of the word.
When she delivered her acceptance speech, “For me music is the weapon of peace,” the audience erupted in applause.
Kidjo went on to mention those who the album was dedicated to: “I want to thank the 100 women who worked with me on this album – including my mother – for their beauty and their resilience.” Benin-born Kidjo is a tireless champion of her cause.
“When I was making my speech I had my girls on my mind, remembering the laughs, the hard moments, the joy that will always prevail and their determination,” she says. The girls she mentions are from the Batonga Foundation. Kidjo is a founder of the organisation, which provides girls in Africa with the opportunity for secondary and tertiary education through scholarships and direct mentoring, with the aim of ensuring these women have the tools to empower themselves through life.
“You cannot lead a good life for them, and you cannot find the solution to help them by not making them a part of that solution,” says Kidjo. “They know better what they need; you just need to open the door and give them the possibilities.”
Kidjo gave up her childhood ambition of being James Brown early on. “When I finally figured out I couldn’t become him – physically – I started watching my mother differently. Observing the things she did and how she took care of us and how she would reach out to take care of other kids that were not her own, and the smile on her face. The happiness of her doing it… that’s what I wanted to achieve.”
Kidjo’s foundation follows the same principles the singer applies to motherhood, “which for me, is bliss. [I] feel completed as a person, not just as a woman but as a human being “. She stresses that she was fortunate enough to be able to help other women because of the way her childhood was shaped.
To facilitate change in the girls she works with, Kidjo encourages their own mothers first. “As part of one programme we give a loan to the mother, we train the mother to run a business… She’s the one who pays the tuition to the school – therefore the child believes more in school.
But the mother is the one watching if she’s doing her homework.
“The dynamic is changed, The parents no longer feel hopeless and helpless, like someone else is doing what it is they are supposed to do.”
Changing the institutionalised message in Africa – that education is not as important for women as it is for men – is incredibly important for Kidjo. She believes that by motivating the women of Africa to mobilise for education, the continent will blossom.
“You have to respect the people you are trying to help [so they can] grow and become whoever they want to become.
“…If we want a world of peace, a world where capitalism can have a more human face to it, then we win over any extremist ideology. Because when you have more people that participate in the economy, that go through every part of being a human being, who have something to live for, then they will not let anyone take that away from them.”