Pride for one’s country and/or culture could be considered one of the most important characteristics or requirements of any citizen. Additionally, being a woman birthed from a storied, unique culture demands lofty respect and pride as well. Versatile world musician Angélique Kidjo doesn’t refrain from exhibiting her pride and love for her native country of Benin, located in West Africa. Eve itself is an album named after her mother, and dedicated to the women of Africa, specifically the experience of being an African woman back-when. Sixteen songs in total—13 full-length and three interludes—Eve can be described as a rhythmic, enthusiastic, and Afrocentric affair.
“M’Baamba (Kenyan Song)” proves to be an electrifying start to Eve, opening with an alluring rawness. Incredibly percussive and chocked full of exuberance, “M’Baamba” truly establishes the tone early. Translating to “Hands in hands, we’re able to create a chain of sisterhood”, “M’Baamba” exemplifies the theme of women’s empowerment. A second consecutive highlight follows on “Shango Wa”, which is incredibly funky, once more thanks to its infectious groove. For titular context, Shango Wa is a Yoruban god who identifies as both sexes. Call and response is utilized here, serving as an effective device that is representative of African music historically. Despite a minor tonal center, often associated with moodiness, “Shango Wa” retains the jubilance initiated by the opener.
“Eva” (featuring Asa) is a song of women’s friendship. The cut sports a cooler nature about it initially, gradually growing in size where production is concerned. The chorus is catchy, despite the unfamiliarity many will have with the language. It doesn’t quite shine as brightly as the opening duo or the proceeding “Bomba”, but it is another enjoyable listen. “Bomba” is preceded by the first of three album interludes, “Interlude: Agbade”. Though the interludes are closer to snippets than full-length songs, there is something magical and special about all of them. Momentum propels “Bomba”, which features Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij on guitar. A soulful groove coupled with ample African cues makes “Bomba” another winning track. In addition to Batmanglij’s guest appearance, the use of organ within the production (Bernie Worrell of Funkadelic) further amplifies the track.
“Hello”, featuring Trio Teriba utilizes Yoruban lyrics. The results are once more highly effective thanks to an infectious groove and Kidjo’s sensational lead vocals. As good as “Hello” is, the contrasting “Blewu” is a showstopper, finally slowing the tempo down tremendously for Kidjo. Accompanied solely by acoustic guitar, “Blewu” allows for Kidjo’s powerhouse pipes to really shine without Ever fighting the production work. Smartly, “Kamoushou”—a track referencing Oro, the God of wind—switches gears to reggae. Some of Kidjo’s best vocal moments appear at the end of “Kamoushou”, which isn’t necessarily a top-echelon cut, but also no slouch either. “Kulumbu” features the legendary Dr. John, who “tickles the ivories” like none other on his piano solo. Referencing “the dove of peace”, Kidjo and company uses jubilance to tonally represent the dove.
Highlight “Ebile” is a delicious blend of classical (Kronos Quartet) and indigenous African sounds. For the truly eclectic music listener, particularly those who enjoy a touch of “classical” in the mix, “Ebile” is the perfect track. “Awalole” is a fine showing in itself, trading the Kronos Quartet in favor of Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxenbourg. The orchestrations prove to be beautiful, working soundly with Kidjo’s lead and the choral African voices. “Bana”, featuring Yvonne Kidjo supersedes “Awalole”, delivering one of the best-organized production jobs of the entire album. Easygoing and relaxed despite still possessing a rhythmic nature, “Bana” epitomizes the vintage African music sound.
“Orisha” is the penultimate full-length cut, preceding final interlude “Interlude: Wayi”. “Orisha” makes thoughtful use of horns (saxophone, trombone, and trumpet), giving Eve a genuine soul-driven cut. Described as a “tribute to the pantheon of Yoruba gods”, “Orisha” is certainly a fitting, uplifting tribute. Concluding cut “Cauri” dives into social issues, centered on feminism. Specifically, the relatively brief song addresses forced marriages, something that occurs in many countries around the world, not merely Africa. What’s shocking about the closer is how much more restrained it is than the majority of Eve.
Ultimately, Angélique Kidjo delivers an exceptional, moving album with Eve. Kidjo’s pride and thoughtful messaging definitely is deserving of the utmost respect. Musically, Eve is incredibly effective throughout, delivering something for Everybody, whether you’re a native/citizen of Africa, a feminist, or merely an eclectic music enthusiast. Consistent from start to finish, Eve capably delivers the goods.
// Notes from the Road
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