Savannah Music Festival Review: Angelique Kidjo performs 'Remain in Light'

click to enlarge Savannah Music Festival Review: Angelique Kidjo performs 'Remain in Light'
Angelique Kidjo's dance party finale on stage at the Lucas.

This Saturday night's appearance by Afrobeat superstar Angelique Kidjo at the Savannah Music Festival was her second in Savannah. Her first show here, in 2008, is still remembered quite fondly over a decade on, and was no doubt a major reason for the high degree of excitement and anticipation evident in the crowd at the Lucas Theatre.

Another reason for the anticipation was the nature of this particular concert: A song-by-song journey through Talking Heads' seminal 'Remain In Light' album from 1980.

Kidjo's tour is in support of the release of her own cover version of the album last year, which garnered great critical acclaim.

It also doesn't hurt that David Byrne's own 'American Utopia' tour this past year — incorporating African and hip-hop musicians and elements — has been riveting concert audiences and critics for months, with some calling it the greatest live show of all time.

The musical cross-pollination gods are both truly smiling on both Kidjo and Byrne at this moment in history, and audiences are responding in kind.

Kidjo is a dominant force of nature onstage; her powerful and evocative voice commands the soundspace and her dance moves are athletic and graceful.

At age 58, she is ageless. Despite a very high-energy show, with lots of dancing and stage movement — and not just one but two jaunts through the entire downstairs audience — at no point was she ever even slightly out of breath. Literally not once.

Young performers, take note. And take care of yourselves, as Angelique Kidjo obviously does.

She is an extremely personable and direct, eye-to-eye communicator with the audience, entertaining between songs with various snippets of her young life growing up in Africa and exhortations to the women of the world to embrace their inner power and majesty — as when she tells of the time her father told she and her sister that "your brain is your secret weapon, use it."

None of this surprised long-time fans, as Kidjo has been an outspoken activist for various global causes for many years.

Her confidence must also be due to the extreme professionalism of her band. Drummer Yayo Serka, a percussion legend in his own right, was mesmerizing in his creative, innovative approach to playing what initially looked like a very barebones kit.

While Kidjo's renditions of the Talking Heads tunes are sublime in and of themselves, subtly building on the Afropop elements already existing in the music, what made this show stand out is the fact that you really got a lot more than was marketed.

'Remain In Light' is a pretty short album, so to make this a full evening Kidjo also performs a wide variety of her own material, in which she is able to vocally shine much more completely than when interpreting the Byrne lyrics.

People will be talking for years about the show's finale, in which Kidjo invited anyone in the audience to come onstage and dance. And not just for a minute or two — it was a real dance party up there: young, old, black, white, everybody.

The urge to dance isn't always easy to express at Savannah Music Festival shows. Often there is palpable tension in the crowd when some decide to stand up and dance, and others insist the price of their ticket means everyone needs to stay seated.

Kidjo slyly remarked on this early in the show, complimenting the crowd for their ability to dance while seated. Her unspoken message was, good luck if you think there will be no dancing at this show.

By 45 minutes in, Kidjo expressly urged people to stand and dance, and from that point on there was really no turning back, and most all the audience joyfully took part.

I wonder if it might be a good idea for the Music Festival to include in their wide variety of informational material a note that some shows might be more amenable to dancing than others. This would please both those who enjoy standing and dancing, as well as adequately prepare those who prefer to stay away from those situations.


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