Generally speaking, I have mixed feelings about artists interpreting entire albums by other artists. To be fair, I enjoyed Ryan Adams' handling of Taylor Swift's 1989 more than I thought I would. And some of Phish's Halloween sets are fun (oh, come on, you know Phish is talented). But I could not be more excited about Angélique Kidjo making the Talking Heads classic Remain In Light her own.
In 1983 Angélique Kidjo moved from Benin to Paris. Kidjo recalls that time with NPR:
And when I arrived in Paris, I was determined to catch up with the music I didn't have. I became a music junkie. I went to a party with some friends of mine and somebody started playing the song of the Talking Heads called "Once in a Lifetime" and everybody was standing and dancing weird, and me, I was grooving. And I told them, "This is African music," and they go, "Hell no, this is rock and roll. You Africans are not sophisticated enough to do this kind of music."
The Talking Heads had already made a name for themselves, rising from the New York scene with a fusion of punk, art-school rock, funk, avant-garde and world music. For their fourth album, the band openly drew from Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti and African polyrhythms. The band is even reported to have told people that if they really wanted to understand the band's ambition with the album, go listen to Fela.
Kidjo has stripped away some of the 80's sheen from the album and brought the Afrobeat influence to full bloom. The music is vibrant and joyful even while many of the lyrics take on added poignancy considering the struggles of Africa and the music grows in urgency. NPR says:
Kidjo's interpretation feels more legitimate and offers an unfiltered representation of the Motherland's polyrhythmic dance. Take "Listening Wind" as an example: above a gentle mix of djembe drums and oscillating synths, Kidjo tells the story of a man named Mojique, who sees first-hand the colonization of his village. "He sees the foreigners in growing numbers," she sings. "He sees the foreigners in fancy houses." There's a measured sadness to Kidjo's voice, as if she's living the trauma herself.
This is where the album succeeds. Kidjo uses well-known source material but makes it her own; adding depth and perspective. And moving your booty. Watch the video for "Born Under Punches:"
Watch the video for "Once In A Lifetime:"
Visit Angélique Kidjo's official website
Stream Remain In Light at NPR
Follow Kidjo on Facebook
Follow Kidjo on Twitter
Read Allmusic's profile of Kidjo
Read Pitchfork's review of the album
Listen to Kidjo on Spotify
Purchase the album at Amazon