Angelique Kidjo Reflects on Family Influence and the Challenges of Love

Published February 10, 2024

Angélique Kidjo, at 63 years old, has become a global icon, known for her extraordinary musical talent that has earned her five Grammy Awards. Kidjo's life story is one of inspiration and resilience, deeply influenced by the rich cultural heritage of her family, especially her parents who instilled values of love and education.

Early Musical Beginnings

Born in Ouidah, Benin, West Africa, Kidjo was the seedling in a family where music and love were the soil. Her father, Franck, a musician, and postal government official, exposed her to music at a young age. Despite the loss of his own father before his birth and becoming an only child after the death of his sister, Franck was determined to ensure the legacy of education and protection for his mother. Kidjo absorbed these values and channeled them into her early music career.

By the age of nine, Kidjo was already performing in her brother's band, showcasing a talent that was nurtured with care and encouragement from her family. Not afraid of questions, she earned the nickname 'When Why How,' always seeking to learn more from her older brother Oscar, who despite not attending music school, was a proficient guitarist. Such family collaborations set Kidjo on the path to stardom.

Navigating Sibling Dynamics

Growing up with seven brothers was no easy feat for Kidjo. In her teenage years, she adopted a tomboy persona, perhaps as a survival tactic among her brothers who would scrutinize any potential romantic interests with an almost comical thoroughness. Nevertheless, Kidjo faced this familial love with humor and determination, ensuring her autonomy in matters of the heart.

In high school, Kidjo experienced a relationship that tested her commitment to her craft. When her boyfriend demanded she quit singing for marriage, Kidjo stood firm, choosing her passion for music over the relationship—an assertiveness that would define her personal and professional life.

A Love Born from Music and Respect

In 1983, a coup in Benin led Kidjo to France where she continued her studies in jazz. It was here, amid the smoke-filled rooms, where her path crossed with French composer and producer Jean Hebrail, who would become her husband. Their initial meeting was marked by Kidjo's fierce stance against smoking for the sake of her singing—a stance that perhaps intrigued Hebrail and marked the beginning of their lifelong partnership, both in music and life, leading to marriage in 1987.

The couple's collaborative spirit continues to this day, with both Kidjo and Hebrail contributing to each other's musical projects from their home in New York. Their joint creativity is a testament to their shared values and respect for one another.

Lessons from Mandela

Kidjo's life has also been touched by historical figures, notably Nelson Mandela. During a visit to his prison cell, Mandela imparted wisdom on forgiveness and moving on from wrongs, a philosophy that Kidjo has weaved into her own life narrative.

As Kidjo continues to inspire and enthrall audiences worldwide, her journey reminds us of the power of music, the importance of family, and the courage it takes to love authentically—lessons she enjoys sharing on global stages.

family, music, love