Grammy award winning singer, Angelique Kidjo is part of the cast of Kunle Afolayan’s anticipated movie, ‘The CEO,’ and in this chat with E24-7 MAGAZINE’S EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BIODUN KUPOLUYI, the Republic of Benin-born artiste recalls how she met Kunle Afolayan, and she also shares her conviction that the movie will change the face of African cinema. Excerpts…
How did you meet Kunle?
As Kunle said, we met on the plane. Most of the time, when I am on the plane, all I want to do is to be left alone, and get some rest. I usually don’t want to talk to anybody because the rule of touring is to sleep and eat when you can as you are always running from one place to the other. I was just coming back from receiving the Grammy award when we met on the plane in February. He came into the plane and fell asleep. I was also sleeping and then we woke up at the same time, and he started looking at me. He was constantly on the phone, and I thought to myself that this guy is always on the phone. We looked at each other, and he said, ‘Are you actually Kidjo,’ and I said, ‘Something like that.’ He then said you are actually Kidjo, and I replied, ‘You already know and you are still asking me the question.’ That was how we started talking and we talked very fast as if we’ve known each other for a long time. Kunle is doing in movies what I have been doing with my music since I started in Benin. That is bringing Africa to the world in a different light than the misery we hear all the time. He is bringing the beauty and the richness of our culture to the world.
Why did you decide to be part of the cast of the movie?
I believe that if you don’t tell your story, somebody else will tell it for you, and I am determined that nobody is going to tell my story and the story of my people for us because I have a voice. And through music, I can tell the story, and now, Kunle has the same approach. I have always extended my music to different kinds of artistes in Africa; all the way to America, and Europe. It doesn’t matter where you come from; music is a universal language just like films because images speak strongly to people. One of my idols in this kind of thinking is the South African singer, Miriam Makeba; she was the first pan African artiste that spoke in front of the UN in 1963 asking for the freedom of South Africa. She was also the first to sing in Portuguese, Indonese, and many other languages.
How far do you think this movie will go?
For me, the movie that we are about to do is beyond just Nigeria; it is Nigeria leading this coalition of the beauty of African culture in images. It’s one of my dreams come true to see that some African artistes are beginning to realise that only doing our art for our own people will not bring us far. Africa gives so much to this world culturally. In every field or culture, Africa is there. I have seen and experienced it personally. When I was working on my album, tracing the route of slavery back to music, I learned a great deal back to what we have as the music of today. I always say Rock N Roll, and Classical music wouldn’t have existed without African music. That is the reality, and that is what Kunle is trying to do with images; telling a fictional story which is universal. It’s also a timely story because it will open the African market. By 2050, Africa will be the largest continent in the world with two billion people. It means it’s a business continent, and to grow a business, you have to make it attractive to people for them to come to you, and not patronize somebody else. That is why I use art to create bonds and to start a conversation; a different narrative of Africa away from the misery tales. We have to project the continent not only as the one people come to help, but the one that also makes impact in other people’s lives. That is why I accepted to be in this movie because of Kunle’s passion, and the way he wants to work. It’s something that is not going to be easy because in Africa, you’ll run into a lot of challenges, but it’s not impossible. Impossible is a word that can’t be found in my vocabulary. I believe that if you have the talent, passion, and you are doing it in the right way, you are going to push back the obstacles sooner or later. That’s what is going to make this movie successful, and kudos to him.