Remain in Light
Angelique Kidjo is African Music Royalty – even if she’s suffered some claims of (somehow) not being “Authentic”. Hers is a fine body of work, moving and political, so often utterly joyous and accessible too as she creates a version of Afrobeat that integrates mainstream international music; hers then is an “Afropop” – a pure sensibility infused with heart and grit but with crossover pop appeal also.
No mean feat.
Here she tackles the legendary Talking Heads album track-by-track. David Byrne and Brian Eno were the masterminds behind the original 1980 album. The rhythm section (Chris Frantz on drums, Tina Weymouth on bass) were crucial to the project; Frantz’s understanding of the African pop music and Afrobeat grooves fused with the disco/funk of the earliest Talking Heads recordings and was as much inspired by the R’n’B and hip-hop records that poached a part of that original source-music.
Here Kidjo’s all-star line-up features the Godfather of Afrobeat, Tony Allen. But this masterclass is truly inspired in its inclusion of both musicians who were the source and those that saw the original Remain In Light as some sort of blueprint. So we have Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes and Vampire Weekend’s Era Koenig jamming with the Antibalas horn section (Antibalas are known not only for their own brand of Fela Kuti-inspired funk but also for starring in the Broadway show Fela!)
Tony Allen is nearly the star of the show, in that way he has, his slinky glide and utmost authority marking Houses in Motion, his punchiness on Crosseyed and Painless too. But Kidjo is sublime, not least for the political urgency she can offer to lines written by a white American nearly 40 years ago.
On the opening Born Under Punches, for instance, as soon as you hear isolated phrases such as “take a look at these hands”, “the hand of the Government” and “All I want is to breathe” there is a potency far beyond mere replication of the original song and whatever intent it might have hoped to have.
Some of the tracks here, such as Punches and The Great Curve manage – somehow – to not just dazzle and delight, but to even surpass the strengths of the originals, which is (hopefully) really saying something.
Oddly, perhaps, the weakest note on this version of the album is Once In A Lifetime. Maybe that’s because the original track is a world in and of itself. Here it’s served up as a type of fiesta-funk, and though it’s a fun party – a happy time – it doesn’t sound anything close to singular. It also doesn’t suit being dressed up in African clothes.
That’s a small complaint of course. For this, all up, is a winning recreation of one of rock music’s greatest achievements. It’s also one of the best realised full-album cover I’ve heard.
It should please almost anyone that comes to it: Talking Heads fans, Kidjo fans, and any and all in between.
Allegedly, Kidjo only heard the full original album for the first time in 2016, creating her need to cover it; it’s possible to believe that any of her fans hearing this that haven’t yet heard the Talking Heads disc find themselves with two new favourite albums. Stuck listening to each and finding themselves alternating between strange and familiar worlds. Letting the days go by…