On Friday, February 3rd, Austria’s famous Bruckner Orchestra Linz will descend upon the city of Chicago. Accompanying them will be powerhouse vocalist, the one, and only Angélique Kidjo. The guide throughout the evening is chief conductor Dennis Russel Davies. Together, they will deliver what is sure to be an unforgettable evening.

The Performance

Their emotive performance will take the audience through the journey of both trials and triumphs of Africans and African Americans. With two days in black history month, this performance is almost too timely as we reflect on the current state of our country.

Through the music, we’ll witness the trials of poverty-stricken residents of Charleston Porgy and Bess. We’ll explore the poetry of Langston Hughes through the melodic sounds of bass-baritone Martin Archrainer. We’ll want to move our feet to the jazz suite by Duke Ellington. And finally, we venture back to the motherland as we explore the creation of the world according to the Yorubas.

The Incomparable Angélique Kidjo

When we make our way to Africa, Angélique Kidjo along with the compositions of Phillip Glass will serve as our guide as we journey through Africa.

We all know the various stories of how the world began from the Big Bang Theory, Christianity, and Greek Mythology. However, on this evening we’ll witness the world through the eyes of the Yorubas through the composition Ifé: Three Yoruba Songs.  

Ahead of her performance, we caught up with Angelique to discuss the iconic work. She shares the message she wants us all to go home with and the relevance of this message today.

Without further ado, let’s hear from the incomparable Angélique Kidjo.

Conversations with Angélique

 TCL: What is it that you are looking forward to most from this upcoming performance?

AK: Chicago feels very special to me these days because this is where my daughter has been living for a couple of years. So I come quite often and I’m discovering the city more and more. It is a city where culture is very important and very sophisticated and I’m proud to bring something new and beautiful here.

TCL: Angelique, tell us what we can expect from your performance with the Bruckner Orchestra Linz?

AK: A few years ago, I was singing in New York with my guitar player and a gentleman came after the performance. He was the artistic director of the London Philharmonic and had this vision of me singing with a Philharmonic orchestra which surprised me. After a few conversations, we came up with the idea of doing a collaboration with Philip Glass who in fact was a friend of mine! This project has a special place in my heart as with Philip we’ve been building a bridge between 2 different cultures and I feel it is a very important endeavor these days. As Philip says, no one has walked on this bridge before. The piece is a cycle of three poems written for my voice and the orchestra.

 “No one has walked on this bridge before” – Philip Glass

The Story of Ifé

TCL: When listening to the program, what is the story that is being told by you and the orchestra?

AK: In those 3 poems, I’m telling the stories of the creation of the world according to the Yorubas which is the ethnicity of my mother. We have many characters very similar to the Greeks in our pantheon of God’s. Traditional cultures have so much imagination. The first story is about the creation of the Earth by Obatala and Oduduwa. Obatala was too drunk to accomplish his mission so Oduduwa did all the work! The second poem is about Yemandja, the Goddess of the sea. She had an abusive husband and created the sea as a way to escape her husband. The third piece is about Oshumare, the Rainbow snake.

TCL: You sing the Ifé Three Yoruba songs. Can you explain why the song selection fits the overall message of the program?

AK: The concert is a tribute to Philip Glass and I feel this piece showcases the amazing talent and diversity of Philip’s work. When we started to work together, he had so much enthusiasm. It felt to me like he was a young composer working on his first piece. That was so inspiring! He is a treasure and his music touches the heart of the people. My dream is to have this piece performed on the African continent!

The Takeaway

TCL: How is the message of the program relevant to what’s going on today?

AK: As I said our collaboration with Philip and the Bruckner Orchestra is the living proof that we are one humanity that can work and live together, influenced each other for the better. It should never be “them” against “us”. That is not how music works and music has to show us the lead in this fight. Diversity makes us stronger.

TCL: After the performance, what do you want the audience to take away from the experience?

AK: I want them to understand that we can mix cultures without weakening them. We can enrich each other by bringing together our particularities and our depths. I know it sounds very naive but this is real. Classical music has always been influenced by traditional music, from Chopin, Gershwin, Bartok etc… Even Bach used the Sarabande form which was a dance of African slaves from South America. I know it is hard to believe but this is an untold truth!

“It should never be “them” against “us”. That is not how music works and music has to show us the lead in this fight”

You can see Angelique’s moving performance with the Bruckner Orchestra Linz this Friday at the Harris Theater of Chicago.
Be sure to buy your tickets now so you don’t miss what will be a night to remember.
Special thanks to Angelique for being a part of this feature. All photos were provided by Angélique Kidjo.