I avoided watching the video to the UK Band Aid project, Band Aid 30 – Do They Know It’s Christmas? (2014) because I knew it would enrage me.
What I had read and heard was enough to put me off but somehow yesterday, curiosity got the best of me. I clicked on to YouTube and out came rushing disturbing images of a dying African woman and feel good white celebrities gathered in a slick London studio with one mission: to make Christmas Ebola free.
A few minutes into the song I noticed a familiar face. I was uncertain at first (maybe I was in denial because something in me blatantly refused to register the name that kept on popping in my head) but there was no denying the fact; it was Angélique Kidjo! – the voice of our beloved continent, our super woman, our very own African musical royalty. The uber talented songstress who we have all grown to love and admire ever since we first heard her sing her timeless classic “Agolo”.
I was shocked, I was speechless, I was gutted. How did she of all people, get herself roped in to this mess? Shouldn’t she know better? After all, she is a seasoned pro, a veteran in the music industry with over 30 years experience.
Angelique Kidjo is well travelled, multi-lingual, Afropolitan. She is a global player in every sense of the word. What went wrong? Why did she not see or connect the dots? Where was her management; her lawyers; her gatekeepers? I mean people like her usually have a whole team who they pay to protect them, right?
Was there no one to guide her? For crying out loud no matter how good her intentions why did she not do her research? Why did she not call up her colleagues in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia? Why did she not call up her family in Benin? She would have learned quite a bit: the glaring facts about Ebola, the songs recorded by local artists months before Band Aid, the ongoing campaigns in the countries worst affected – they are all literally a click away.
My head was swirling; trapped in an endless lopped voice of agony that kept on asking “Angelique why? How could you have betrayed our love for you?” Watching her do her one liner vocal contribution I couldn’t help but wonder if Angelique Kidjo hasn’t finally lost touch with the realities on ground. All the years of criss-crossing the globe representing and fighting for Africa seems to have gotten her trapped in the pseudo “Voice of Africa” narrative. I wish she had taken some time off to re-evaluate her political stance, reassess her previous works and activism and make necessary deductions. All of this would have been avoidable.
Instead Ms Kidjo, who Forbes magazine listed as one of the 40 most powerful celebrities in Africa seems to be too preoccupied with staying relevant in a constantly shifting and uncertain global pop market, too self-obsessed with the “I must save Africa” syndrome. Maybe she was too carried away by the hype around her.
Let’s get this straight; I do not know this woman. Our interactions have never gone beyond the friendly “hi” amongst colleagues whenever we bumped into each other at festivals in Europe but from what I have read about her and seen in her interviews I believe she is genuinely interested in bettering the plight of the downtrodden in Africa. The only problem is she is going about it the wrong way. She has now become the ‘token Negro’. She has joined the leagues of conspirators in the white man’s burden game and she’s not even aware of it.
Maybe she should have taken a cue from Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte two of her musical activist heroes who were both extremely cautious of who they supported and the movements they identified with. If she had understudied them more diligently she would have saved us all (and herself) the embarrassment and shame.
I would have expected Ms. Kidjo to have reached out to the young Liberian or Sierra Leonian artists who recorded songs addressing the Ebola plaque months before Band Aid or other campaigns in the west go involved. She should have used her voice as a global celebrity to show the world that we do not need Geldof or Bono to lead the way.
Something in me died yesterday. Seeing Angelique Kidjo and our lost brother, Seal, sing along to one of the worst songs in musical history made me question, not only their artistic taste but also their human integrity. I can’t help but ask:Is this the price of fame?