Why Angélique Kidjo has reinterpreted the music of Talking Heads

Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - 16:01

What does 1980s American art rock have to do with the music traditions of West Africa?

More than you might think – Talking Heads frontman David Byrne made clear the influence of the music of West Africa on the band’s LP Remain in Light right from its launch back in 1980.

Produced by Brian Eno, the album draws on the Afrobeat sounds pioneered by Nigerian musician Fela Kuti and incorporates the complex polyrhythms associated with the music of countries including Mali, Senegal, Guinea and the Gambia. Unusually for Talking Heads at that time, session musicians featured on the record – including soul singer Nona Hendryx and a number of percussionists.

It is also structurally influenced by the communal nature of music making in West Africa – no noodling guitar solos or flashy drum breaks here.

Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo instantly identified the influence of her home continent the first time she heard the record, when living in Paris (she moved there in 1983).

So Kidjo sees her decision to record her own interpretation of the songs on the seminal Talking Heads album as bringing the project full circle.

As Remain In Light was influenced by the music of my continent, I want to pay back the homage and create my own African take on Talking Heads’ songs
Angelique Kidjo

Her version was recorded with superstar producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift).

It takes classic songs such as Crosseyed and Painless, Once in a Lifetime and Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) and reinterprets them with electrifying rhythms, African guitars, and layered backing vocals.

Angélique Kidjo - 'Crosseyed and Painless' - live at Jazz Voice

If you were at the EFG London Jazz Festival Jazz Voices concert last November you won’t have forgotten Kidjo’s brilliant performance of Crosseyed and Painless (above). Now we’re thrilled that she is coming back to Royal Festival Hall to perform the whole record.

The concert takes place on Friday 8 June, the same day that Remain in Light is released. Tickets are on sale now – don’t miss out on what is going to be an electrifying show from one of the world’s greatest singers.

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Ahead of the performance Kidjo has also put together a brilliant Spotify playlist featuring music by Talking Heads, Fela Kuti, musicians who performed on the original record and more.

listen now