Growing up in the West African country of Bénin, Angélique Kidjo says music was always part of her life.
"My aunt used to spend a lot of time home when I was growing up," Kidjo said. "And I remember I spent a lot of times sitting on her lap, just listening to her beautiful voice singing all those songs to me, and teaching me the songs even before I started speaking."
Kidjo was born into the Petah tribe in July 1960. She grew up with eight brothers and sisters in a lively home environment. Her mother, Yvonne, was a famous choreographer who ran a theater troupe. When she was 6 years old, Kidjo made her public performance debut, substituting for an actress who fell ill in her mother's show. From that point on, she performed with the troupe all over West Africa.
As a teenager, Kidjo formed her own singing group, Les Sphinx. A radio show took notice and invited her to perform. It was her first big break, and it wasn't long before she was recording a solo album in Paris at the age of 20. The album was a huge success.
"I grew up in a very poor country where you are joyful and positive, or you disappear," Kidjo said. "So, since I was a child, I always had that positive approach to life. I always give people the benefit of the doubt."
And Americans were some of the people she chose to believe in. Although many warned her that the United States wouldn't like or need music sung in a foreign language, Kidjo chose to find out for herself whether or not that was true. Her third album, "Logozo," was recorded in Miami in 1991.
"I found the contrary here," Kidjo said. "People are eager to learn something new. Because they're not competing with anybody, they have every kind of music possible that exists in the world in [the United States]. There are room for me — for me and other people. Because what they like out of music, is they can relate to it … they can sing with me, or they can use it for their own."
Eventually, Kidjo ended up collaborating with several famous U.S. musicians, such as Josh Groban and Alicia Keys.
"The song that I sung with Alicia Keys is very complimentary, because she is one of the rare R&B artists in America that really loves the beat of my village — the 6/8 beat," Kidjo said. "And if you listen to her — all her successes — they're written in 6/8."
Singer-songwriter Joss Stone also impresses Kidjo, not only because of her innate talent, but her potential as well.
"She's just an amazing artist. And I hope that, throughout the years, she is going to bonify, because man, she's young, and the voice that she has now, I can hardly wait 10 years from now to hear what it's gonna sound like. I like voices, I really do," Kidjo said. "For me, it's the mirror of the soul of somebody."
If music is the mirror of the soul, Kidjo's music indicates environmental conservation is one of her great passions. Her 1993 song "Agolo" evokes an environmental awakening.
"One day, when I was pregnant, I realized that we pollute a lot individually. And instead of making people feel 'ughh, how can we do this?'" Kidjo said, "I just said to myself, 'why don't we write a song where everybody is invited to a party, and then we can all sit down and talk about individually, and collectively, we can all do something for this Earth to carry the next generation to come.'"