In a glorious piece of cultural appropriation of cultural appropriation, Remain In Light is Angelique Kidjo’s reworking of Talking Heads’ 1980 album of the same name. Evidently a key musical moment in her journey from Benin to France in 1983, this is a celebratory homage. Partnered with Jeff Bhasker, three-time Grammy award winner Kidjo successfully realises her ‘African take on Talking Heads’ songs’, David Byrne giving his endorsement by appearing alongside her during a performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall last year. One thing is certain, here, the original sounds as if it has been written and performed by Kraftwerk.
Some of the songs are almost unrecognisable. ‘Once In A Lifetime’ bounces with the colour of flamingos, stripping off its suit trousers and shirt to reveal Andy Kershaw in tropical print underpants. Because Kidjo’s version is so very different, it doesn’t matter if you are not familiar with the original. What this shows is what can happen when people from markedly different places are inspired by each other. So whilst Kidjo’s Remain In Light also has plenty of synthesisers and eighties’ electronic effects alongside its African rhythms and intonation, they are the inverse of Byrne and Eno’s. Part of the album is even delivered in languages from her home country. The result is very soulful indeed as ‘Born Under Punches’ testifies. That Kidjo has absorbed Byrne’s stream of consciousness and made sense of it is clear, too.
Kidjo’s voice is as rich as the colours of her native country. On ‘Crosseyed and Painless’ she sounds like Shirley Bassey but from somewhere far sunnier than South Wales. The track is carnival like, with brass and a wealth of other instruments. ‘The Great Curve’ is delivered with equal enthusiasm, horns punctuating the party atmosphere. It seems fitting that the album launch coincides with a show at the Royal Festival Hall and the following night at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre.
Of especial note is ‘Listening Wind’. Kidjo changes the pace to perform this dreamy, reflective track. At over six minutes, the song is similar to Grace Jones’ ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, perhaps indicative of the time the original was produced. Much slower and more subtle than previous tracks, it is like falling into the bluest ocean. Kidjo sings ‘the wind in my heart/the dust in my hair’ with extraordinary tenderness but also the threat of a Bond villain.
Kidjo’s reworking of Remain In Light is powerful. Strong in artistry and delivery, Byrne and Eno must feel very honoured.
Remain In Light will be released on 8th June 2018 through Kravenworks Records.