By 1998, Angelique Kidjo was already a much-heralded Afropop success story, with a sonic reputation for bridging cultures, continents and aesthetic categories, reflecting her own multicultural roots and routes. In other words, she made Afropop with both international and African appeal. But with her fifth album, Oremi, she took her gift for hybridization to the next level.
Armed with a plan to record a trilogy that explored the African roots of music in the Americas, Kidjo headed to New York, where she recorded with jazz artists (Cassandra Wilson, Branford Marsalis) as well as R&B/gospel singer Kelly Price, all while boldly re-imagining Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." The resulting album is a graceful effort that subtly, smoothly laces together African and American music in innovative ways. An Afropop aesthetic dominates the sweet, sunny "Babalao" (a plea for the world's youth), with American soul providing nuance and adornment; for the church-choir-meets-girl-group slow-dance number "Loloye," she uses delicate African aesthetic gestures as a point of entry into American pop styles. The title track, meanwhile, offers a chicly cosmopolitan sound that more fluidly blends together hip-hop, soul, lounge music and African musical traditions.
Oremi was a controversial album: many fans of African music felt Kidjo had delved too deeply into the pop universe, possibly in pursuit of mainstream success. For others, the album represented an exciting and game-changing bridge between African and Western music. Political positions aside, however, the elegance and beauty of this impeccably crafted effort are undeniable and the musical influences and elements it sutures together are intricate and fascinating.