‘Tuned In’ review: Angelique Kidjo aims high, hits target with ‘Eve’

Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo

'Eve' by Angelique Kidjo

"Eve" by Angelique Kidjo

You don’t have to speak a Beninese language, or be African or a woman, to be moved by Angelique Kidjo’s new “Eve.”

The world-music superstar and native of Benin pays tribute to the women of Africa on her new release, titled in honor of her own mother (nicknamed “Eve”) as well as the legendary mother of all humanity.

Kidjo’s mission was to put a positive spin on the image of Africa and its women, an attempt to contrast the negative stories that often come from the continent. Kidjo traveled throughout Benin making field recordings of groups of women, which ultimately became her backing support on “Eve,” in several Beninese tongues. Their voices unite with disarming effect, bolstering Kidjo’s bulldozing soul and sometimes playing along in a game of call-and-response with the singer.

Kidjo and producer Patrick Dillett get an array of additional support - from Nigerian singer ASA on the smoldering electro-funk “Eva” (about friendship between women), from Vampire Weekend guitarist Rostam Batmaglij and Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell on the festive and bluesy “Bomba,” from Dr. John on the earthy locomotive cut “Kulumbu,” and from her own mother on the charismatic Congolese track “Bana.”

Meanwhile, the Kronos Quartet adds stately foundation at Kidjo soars on “Ebile,” and the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg provides regal weight to her dramatically plaintive delivery on “Awalole”

But Kidjo typically doesn’t need anyone’s help to control a room. She’s spirited on the brink of explosive on these mostly joyful songs, only coming across too hard against the otherwise-gorgeously arranged ballad “Blewu.” And she holds all the power at the end with “Cauri,” a mesmerizing closer that throws full focus on her transcendent voice.

“Eve’s” liner notes say, “This album is dedicated to the women of Africa: to their resilience and their beauty.” It’s hard to imagine a more fitting person to pull off such a sweeping tribute.

Rating: 4 stars (out of five)

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