On Mother Nature, her first album of original material since 2015’s Sings, Angélique Kidjo is nothing if not direct about her feelings on the state of the world at large. “We’ve been here before / All the world’s up in flames,” begins the opening track “Choose Love”. From that point forward, Kidjo laments the ongoing global status quo with its many, often mortal and always systemically entrenched, threats: police brutality, colonial legacies, climate crises, patriarchy.
At the same time, she offers hope. A younger generation of artists makes up the majority of her intercontinental team of collaborators; rising stars lifted up on the strength of Kidjo’s always insurmountable presence. Each of these guests brings a fresh approach that helps balance out the richness of Kidjo’s continually golden voice and the heft of her messaging, contributing to a spirited and unwavering collective response to disheartening circumstances.
There’s no time for subtlety. In the title track, Kidjo describes nature’s warnings as being “a time bomb set on a lost countdown”, and it’s only in coming together across nations and generations that she sees any road to progress. With Yémi Alade, she asserts her “Dignity”, the two refusing to give in to disrespect – a statement particularly sobering given recent movements against police corruption and violence in both the United States and Nigeria – ending with the addition of wailing saxophones and a luscious buildup of synths.
“Fired Up” sees Kidjo in that exact state, a force to be reckoned with alongside cool-headed features: jazzy electronics from London’s Blue Lab Beats and smooth vocals from Accra’s Ghetto Boy. In “One Africa”, a redux of Le Grand Kallé’s famed rumba-style “Indépendance Cha Cha”, Kidjo celebrates 1960 as both her year of birth (“I was born in a storm”) and the Year of Africa, a potent combination.
There is time, though, for hope. “Meant for Me” sees Kidjo extolling beauty in all kinds of human diversity with the help of Shungudzo’s backing vocals against a powerful pop soundscape. On “Free & Equal”, Sampa the Great makes a call to action: “Africa, the motherland / Rise!” Mr Eazi joins Kidjo and Salif Keita in a love song to a continent on “Africa, One of a Kind”. Current superstar Burna Boy features in an ode to compassionate self-care on upbeat, dancehall-tinged “Do Yourself”. “Flying High” is a sweet and simple finale that brings Kidjo’s core belief home once more: “One love, one life, and one world / We have to live together.”
Mother Nature is neither unflappably positive nor fatalistic about the future. Instead, it swings back and forth between the two poles to differing degrees (darkly dramatic “Mycelium” on one end, sunny “Omon Oba” on the other). The common thread from start to finish is Angélique Kidjo’s energy, shining through in a voice that never seems to lose strength or agility. She continues to be nothing short of magnificent as a performer, and her generosity in bringing newer artists with her into the spotlight is wholly gratifying. And, while the sentiments here may not be wholly novel, they are well-timed, and they soar when Kidjo sings them. After all, what doesn’t?