Angelique Kidjo -‘Remain In Light.’ (Kravenworks Records)
OK, let’s try and take this record at face value. It’s a record that sees American and European music meet African music, coming together to produce a record that shimmers with infectious rhythms, singalong choruses and a general feeling of euphoria. On those terms alone, this would be a pretty damn good record.
The reality is that face value really doesn’t begin to do justice to this album. Remain In Light is Angelique Kidjo’s version of the Talking Heads’ seminal 1980 album of the same name, which was produced by Brian Eno. The final record of a trilogy he produced with the band, it is still an astonishing record nearly forty years after its release.
See: if the original album drew on West African rhythms, particularly the Nigerian afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, then this album actually takes the album back to Africa. Leaving behind her native Begin in the 1980s after a communist dictatorship, Ms. Kidjo found herself in Paris, where she encountered the music of Talking Heads, and recognised that this was music with its roots in Africa, something the Talking Heads were always open about.
Let’s be upfront about it: this is not simply a cover of the original album. It’s an album that takes it by the hand and travels with it to Africa. It’s not admonishing it, rather explaining where its original roots come from. The songs are all re-interpreted, and even if they are in the same order as they appear on the original album, they sound radically different. Album opener ‘Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)’ comes across as a call to arms. The song for which the album is best known ‘Once In A Lifetime‘ is celebratory in tone, and the haunting ‘Listening Wind’ is even more hypnotic than the original, its lyrics even more appropriate in the near forty years since the album was first released.
This is an album that stands in its own right as a key work. With an impressive team on hand, including legendary drummer Tony Allen, her longterm guitarist Dominic James, percussionist Magatte Sow, as well as Blood Orange and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, this is more than a tribute.
Outstanding. A serious contender for album of the year. I’m off to listen to it again.
Remain In Light is released on June 8 on Kravenworks Records