A world redrawn: Pandemic, protests are 'wake-up call,' says Angelique Kidjo

New York (AFP) –


Angelique Kidjo, the Beninese vocalist lauded worldwide for her activism and harmonized global sound, says that COVID-19 exposes capitalism's failings, as anti-racism protests underscore that "silence is complacency."

The Grammy-winning international superstar turns 60 on July 14 -- two weeks before Benin celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence from France -- but saw her Carnegie Hall show marking the milestones canceled over the pandemic.

As the coronavirus spread, the UNICEF goodwill ambassador performed a remake of the classic "Pata Pata" ("Touch Touch") by her mentor and anti-apartheid legend Miriam Makeba, with altered lyrics encouraging keeping our hands to ourselves.

What follows are excerpts, edited for clarity and length, from a Zoom interview with Kidjo, who spoke to AFP from her Paris home where she's quarantining with her husband -- and working on a top-secret new album.

Greed has fragilized our system, our ecosystem, our humanity, our freedom, everything. Today is a wake-up call for all of us, it's a reset button that we should not sit aside, living in a society where there's so much injustice, inequality of wealth.

People work and they don't make any means... capitalism isn't working for everybody.

We have to have the courage to rethink capitalism. To put human beings at the center.

Certain things are not for speculation: health, education, all services for the well-being of human beings.

A good lesson from this COVID-19: we have to tone down a little bit of arrogance. We need to realize that we are not invincible.

It doesn't matter how much money you have -- you can send people to space, a little virus can kill you.

We keep living in this fantasy that we create around us, to comfort ourselves somehow that some of us are superior.

COVID-19 has been a reflection moment on many fronts in reassuring me to continue being humble, because what you have today, you can lose tomorrow.

What's going on in the US has been going on forever. Now, perhaps it is the one drop too much.

Did you read him his rights before you put your knees on his neck? And put his head in the gutter? The hatred of black people is concentrated in that moment.

Black people can be killed anytime... it is unbearable to me in the 21st century.

(Racism in) America... it's like a worm eating an apple, it's eaten from within. We need to fix it. We can't say we believe in the Declaration of Independence, when the first article said we are born equal in rights.

Unless there is an exception that black people are not human beings. But if we are human beings, our lives should be respected. The law should work for us, the system should work for us.

We shouldn't be so discriminated (against) that COVID-19 is taking our lives and then the police are adding aggravation to the pain.

We need to come together as one people in America, the world is watching. We aren't the greatest country in the world if we don't fix it.

And we cannot let any leaders tell us that we don't have the right to be in the street.

Silence is complacency. It kills.

I always have hope, no matter what, because if there's no hope, what's the point of waking up every morning and planning anything?

You can be in the street -- you have to ask for your rights, not in violence.

I understand the anger. I understand everything and more, because I'm discriminated (against) all the time, but I don't react violently.

Because if you react violently, you don't have any conversation, you don't make anything move, because you give more power to the person abusing you.

Until the next election, be in the street every day... by numbers, just come together and sit there and say, we want justice. We want our police department to be held accountable.

Music frees people. When dictatorship comes, the first thing they remove is the music -- because that shuts the whole people down.

A society with no culture is not a society that survives, it's impossible because we are not just logic, we are spirituality, we are art -- it's part of our DNA.

And without black music, there's no modern music.

The modern music we love to listen to comes from a painful place, comes from slavery.

That's one thing that annoys people because it brings the question -- why do we hate black people if we dancin' to their music?

It's the complexity of human beings. It's our own hypocrisy, our own schizophrenia.

Talk is easy -- action demands commitment.