Angélique Kidjo, superstar Beninoise singer and humanitarian activist, has teamed up with acclaimed American composer Philip Glass to create an orchestral piece called Ifé: Three Yorùbá Songs. The American premiere of the collaboration takes place July 10 with the San Francisco Symphony. This isn’t Kidjo’s first foray into orchestral work. For her latest album, Angélique Kidjo Sings, she worked with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. Afropop Senior Editor Banning Eyre wrote in his review of that album, “Mostly what we get is Kidjo taking the role of a vocal soloist in an orchestral setting–and that works beautifully.”
In a video interview, Glass described how the collaboration came about. The two legendary artists may appear to come from very different musical worlds, but the New York music scene brings together musicians from all kinds of backgrounds: Glass and Kidjo had actually known and played with each other for over a decade. Kidjo approached Glass with lyrics in Yorùbá, which were then translated for him. The three songs that make up the program tell the Yorùbá story of the creation of the world. Ifé is the name of the Yorùbá kingdom that is considered the cradle of creation. Kidjo describes one of the stories on her website: “Oshumare, the rainbow snake, encircles the earth and prevents it from falling.” Glass based his orchestral arrangement on Kidjo’s lyrics and on his impressions of Kidjo’s voice, which he knew well from their past years of working together.
The performance will take place at the Davies Symphony Hall with conductor Edwin Outwater. The program also includes two songs by George Gershwin and other work from the Kidjo Sings album. If you’re lucky enough to be in the San Francisco area on July 10, you can buy tickets for this remarkably unique show here.