Record Review 

Angélique Kidjo probably has done more to popularize African music than any woman since her longtime role model Miriam Makeba. Kidjo's funk-infected grooves -- and collaborations with Branford Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Manu Dibango and Carlos Santana -- have earned her significant crossover appeal and name recognition far beyond world music circles. She hails from Benin, the small but politically troubled country sandwiched between Togo and Nigeria. She grew up in the '60s and '70s, enthralled by the music of Makeba, James Brown, the Beatles and Santana, as well as native traditional sounds. She relocated to Europe in 1983 to get away from the dogmatic Commununist government which stifled artistic expression.

Most of the 18 tracks here are drawn from Kidjo's last four albums: the rootsie techno-pop masterpieces Logozo (1991) and Ayé (1994); the traditional field-recording meets the high-tech studio Fifa (1996); and the more mainstream Orémi (1998), on which she explored the American aspects of the African musical diaspora (she now lives in NYC). The afro-pop dance number hits "Batonga," "Agolo" and "Wombo Lombo" are here, sounding as exuberant and infectious as Go-era Gabriel. Most of the singing is in Fon, a tonal language related to Yoruba which is impenetrable to the bulk of her fans in the West, a fact which never seems to deter listeners. (Curiously, as a teenager, Kidjo herself improvised lyrics in Fon to songs by James Brown and the Beatles, whose English lyrics were a mystery to her.)

When Kidjo slows the pace down, she can be equally memorable, such as on the haunting "Fifa," a lullaby to her newborn daughter, or "Open Your Eyes," a powerful duet with Kelly Price. She can lend her remarkable voice to soul, R&B and funk with equal conviction, all held together by tight production courtesy of husband Jean Hébrail. Two worthy covers lead off this strangely sequenced but otherwise fine compilation: the Gershwins' "Summertime" and her inventive reworking of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child."

Angélique Kidjo opens for the Dave Matthews Band at Turner Field Wed., June 6.


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