Black Ivory Soul
Angelique Kidjo is one of those phenomenal talents who deserve much more respect (and money) than she has garnered in the past. When she first emerged on the scene over a decade ago, Kidjo was one of the first to take world music onto the Western dancefloor. She has consistently put out good material with her hybridized music ever since — challenging the conventions of every genre in which she has dabbled. Though I must admit that I feared her career over with the 1999 release, Oremi. That doomed disc seemed like a half-hearted attempt to merge her sound with today’s R&B, which was subsequently done so much better by Les Nubians and Zap Mama.
However, three years later, with a new attitude, new music, and a new label, it appears that Kidjo is back on track. Surrounding herself with such phenomenal talents as Amir Thompson (of The Roots), Vinicius Cantuaria, and Carlinhos Brown, and getting powerhouse producer Bill Laswell behind the controls, Kidjo uses Black Ivory Soul as a vehicle to explore the commonalities between her native Benin and Brazil, and to put her name back on top of the world music marquee.
The result is a beautifully melodic effort with serious power. “Tumba” is packed with Brazilian beat energy. She teams up with Dave Matthews (of all people) for the tender ballad, “Iwoya.” She explores neo-soul to much greater effect than on Oremi with the title track. In fact, I don’t know what it is (perhaps Laswell’s magic touch?), but Kidjo deftly melds a disparate array of sounds (R&B, souk, makossa, rumba, and jazz) into a cohesive, organic whole that is simply wondrous. Unlike some of her previous work, there is not a single forced moment on Black Ivory Soul. This album is truly an accomplishment of which Kidjo should be especially proud, and with which we music lovers should be completely enthralled.