"Agolo" became an international hit, and spawned a global concert tour that was very popular in America. Proving the naysayers wrong, Kidjo still remains one of the most popular African artists in the United States.
The first time Kidjo heard American music, she was about 9 years old.
"When the music of James Brown came to Africa, it was something we could all relate to," she said. "When he screams to express things, how the voice was used close to the rhythm — we do that a lot in traditional music, and also a lot of people started mimicking James Brown having an Afro, and sliding the way he slides."
Brown is only one of the many singers beloved by this four-time Grammy-nominated singer.
As a child in Africa, Kidjo recalls singing the words, "Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey … I got the feeling …" and getting strange reactions from people who, like Kidjo at the time, did not speak English.
"People are like, 'do you know what you're talkin' about?' I'm like, 'no. I don't know. I like the words, I like the song, and I'd make words on top of it,'" she said.
Kidjo said that when she was young, Brown's music gave her a sense of "how you can use space, how you can use your body to move, keep the groove going on, and keep the focusing, and use the body in every matters."
When growing up in Bénin, Kidjo also listened to a young Stevie Wonder.
"He came to play at the first musical festival — African musical festival in Nigeria … called FESTAC," she said. "I think that song 'Superstition' … he played over three or four times, because people would not stop moving and singing the song. People wanted the song over and over again."
She explained that it was Wonder's voice that overtook her as a little girl.
"Stevie Wonder — the voice, the emotion, the power of the voice in a place where, when you hear the voice, it just go, like pow, in your plexus, and you go, 'alright, I got it,'" Kidjo said.
During her high school years, Kidjo remembers Bob Marley arriving on the music scene. "[All the young adults] were all looking for an identity, something different from the political scene that we were living in, because we were not happy."
They found it in one Marley song, in particular: "Africa Unite."
"When you're in high school, you're very naive, and you're very idealistic. You want to change the world, you want the world to be a better place. Bob Marley came in, and at that time, I was already speaking English, and I could understand all his lyrics. He gave me the conscience of what you can do with music to touch people," Kidjo said.
"If we do not unite in Africa one day, at one point, we will disappear … Why can't we organize the African union to be efficient militarily, economically and politically? Today, it's not. And one of my dreams is to see the African union be really, really efficient, changing every single citizen of that continent."
Kidjo takes this to heart in her life, becoming a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador in 2002, and founding Batonga, a foundation that gives a secondary school and higher education to girls in Africa, so they can take the lead in changing their country.
Many people compare Kidjo to Miriam Makeba, another singer from Africa who is best known for her song "Pata Pata."