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How Angélique Kidjo Brings Out The Africa Of Celia Cruz's Catalog

Vocalist Angelique Kidjo pays tribute to Celia Cruz on her new album, <em>Celia.</em>
Laurent Seroussi
Courtesy of the Artist
Vocalist Angelique Kidjo pays tribute to Celia Cruz on her new album, Celia.

Vocalist Angélique Kidjo is on another creative streak. As she has throughout her career, Kidjo has left little space between two musically rich releases that showcase her artistic bonafides. 2018'sRemain In Light was a track by track re-imagining of the Talking Heads 1980 album of the same name. This week, Kidjo releases Celia, a tribute to Cuban vocalist Celia Cruz that is every bit as good.

On Remain In Light, Kidjo uncovered a deep African influence that was only hinted at on the original. Taking on Cruz's music adds that extra layer, that throughout Cruz's 50-year career, all of her recordings were already steeped in Afro-Cuban tradition. What Kidjo does is to bring the African roots of Cruz's music front and center in majestic Afrobeat grooves on every track.

Cruz was always very proud of Cuba's African heritage and early in her career, she sang songs in tribute to some of the Yoruban deities common among Cuba's black population. On Celia, her 1940's era originals get a deep and respectful redo with tradition as the foundation. It's interesting to note that Kidjo reminds us that salsa has been popular in Africa for decades.

Taking on such an iconic catalog would carry a potential 'How dare you mess with perfection?' danger, but Kidjo tells me during the interview this week that that concern didn't get in the way of what she heard in her imagination. And there is no doubt that Kidjo loves Cruz as much as the rest of us. Everyone's favorite Cuban tia was obviously just as celebrated throughout Africa. As you will hear in the interview and on the album, Kidjo reveals how.

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Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.