Angelique Kidjo’s performances in Australia could be more lively than usual. That’s both a promise and a threat.

Anyone who has seen her perform knows what a pocket rocket she is. Just watching her on YouTube is exhausting and to be at one of her concerts could be equally exhausting – or energising, depending on how you look at it.

The five-time Grammy Award winner is more energised than usual because she is back in a country she loves.

“I’ve been here five or six times, I can’t remember exactly,” Kidjo tells me not long after arriving in Perth where she starts her tour before heading for Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland and Adelaide, where she is a guest at the Adelaide Festival.

“I’m so happy,” she says. “It’s been too long. I come here and I’m filled up with energy.”

More energy than normal, apparently, which means audiences are in for a treat. This music superstar from the West African nation of Benin brings so much joy and energy to her performances that it will be hard for people to stay in their seats. If they are sitting down. Kidjo doesn’t mind.

“But I do tell people to get up and sing,” she says. “Stand where you are sitting, stand in the aisle, fall off your seat, I don’t mind.”

Australians fell in love with Kidjo with the release of her 1991 album Logozo. Most music lovers had a copy of that album with its classic cover, Kidjo looking fabulous in a skin tight zebra stripe body suit.

When I mention it, she says that, yes, that did put Australia on her radar because it was huge here. On the strength of that success she first toured Down Under in 1992. She cannot believe it was more than three decades ago.

“It is great to be celebrating more than 30 years of performing on a continent which was one of the first to embrace my career,” she says. “You have some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes and warm, welcoming people. Thank you for accepting and supporting me every time I visit.”

She is now 63 and living in New York with French husband Jean Hebrail, but age has certainly not wearied Kidjo. She feels like she’s still getting started and dances up a storm on stage.

“My mum taught me how to dance,” she says. “Every summer we had a huge party no-one would want to miss. We played all sorts of music.”

Some music was banned due to an authoritarian government in her home country but she managed to get an eclectic musical education despite that. Her music cross-pollinates the West African traditions of her upbringing in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk and modal jazz, all the while drawing inspiration from Europe and Latin American influences.

Kidjo’s most recent album, Mother Nature, boldly addresses two of the most pressing challenges of our time: racial inequity and the climate crisis, skilfully combining the personal political aspects and weaving them into music that is radiantly optimistic.

Her collaborations with artists from Zimbabwe, Nigeria and the US draw inspiration from significant historical and current events, including the youth-led movement against Nigeria’s corrupt Special Anti-Robbery Squad, the American Declaration of Independence, Black Lives Matter protests and Benin’s 60th independence anniversary (coinciding with her birth).

The album’s title track, co-written with her husband Jean Hébrail and songwriter Jennifer Decilveo, is an urgent call for everyone to think about Earth’s vital connection to nature.

Kidjo has been aware of the environment her whole life. He grandmother was a strong influence.

“She taught me so much,” she says. “She always used to tell me that respecting the earth was important. Which is why we want to educate people about climate change and music is a good way to do that.”

Kidjo’s unstoppable creative force has seen her recognised as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people and The Guardian’s Top 100 Inspiring Women in the world. She is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and was awarded the prestigious 2023 Polar Music Prize. An equally passionate humanitarian and musician, in 2006 she began Batonga, a foundation dedicated to supporting the education of young girls in Africa.

Supporting her in concert in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide is Maatakitj, a Noongar name meaning “long legs like a spear”. It’s the affectionate stage name of Clint Bracknell, a musician from southern WA and professor of music at the University of Western Australia.

Angelique Kidjo plays the Concert Hall, QPAC, March 4, 8pm, and at the Festival Theatre in Adelaide on March 12. She has also been added to the program for WOMADelaide, where she will perform on Monday, March 11, in place of  Nitin Sawhney, who had to withdraw due to a medical emergency.

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