Angélique Kidjo was a powerhouse singer on her first Australian tour in 1992 and nothing has dimmed her vitality since.

She has returned on a world tour this year to highlight her new album Mother Nature and songs from a career that spans 40 years. At the core of her music is a belief in its ability to unite people across the world, both celebrating its potential for shared joy and using it as a conduit for activism.

The talented Beninese-French dynamo is from a family of performing artists that supported its daughters and encouraged them to pursue their own goals, despite the very male-dominated Benin culture of the time. She has been recognised in many ways for her musical talent ­– including winning five Grammy Awards, most recently for the new album ­– and for her works to help children, women, and the environment.

The opening act at this show was Maatakitj (Clint Bracknell), a Noongar songmaker. His strong dance beats underpinned simply structured songs with traditional, nature-based themes.

After a short interval, Kidjo ­– who also played at WOMADelaide on Monday night ­– brought her characteristic energy to a wonderful performance of infectious music. She entered the stage already singing the first lines of “Steal Away” and the audience clapped along from the start.

Her own ode, “Afrika”, was quieter, a contrast to “Take It or Leave It”, which is lyrically about love and dance and musically all for the body and dance itself. The Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime” received a full-tilt Cuban treatment and the audience quickly responded by standing unbidden to better enjoy it.

There was the familiar hit “Agolo” before “Meant for Me”, the latter with a rapturous audience singalong. The music took a turn with “Choose Love” and its direct message about wanting a better world.

Angélique Kidjo and her band at the Festival Theatre. Photo: Andrew Beveridge

Kidjo was mesmerising all night, ranging across the stage with boundless energy and enthralling moves; and there was always that stunning voice, occasionally featuring its distinctive growl. A fuller band than the lean combination of keyboards (Thierry Vaton), drums (Gregory Louis), percussion (David Donatien) and bass (Rody Cereyon) would have been welcome, but they produced a consistently big sound. There was no fancy lighting and nor was it needed.

The biggest and ostensibly last number filled the stage with Kidjo and band, plus Maatakitj and the Adelaide Children’s Choir. The audience, on their feet, enthusiastically joined in singing and dancing. There is always an encore, though, and this saw Kidjo and her musicians back to perform a medley of older hits, including “We We” and “Batonga”.

It was a night that mixed a little funk with Latin music, but West African music and the Afro-beat predominated. Kidjo’s striking stage presence and remarkable voice delighted the audience even when she was addressing sombre, significant issues. The power of music was at the heart of the show, and she was its radiant star.

Angélique Kidjo performed at the Festival Theatre for one night only on March 12.

Read more 2024 Adelaide Festival coverage here.

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