Currently on the world music stage, no artist shimmers with quite the intensity or artistic integrity of Angelique Kidjo. The latest achievement from the Benin-born singer, whose personal ethics once forced her to quit her law studies in Paris, is Oyaya! (Columbia), produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and String Cheese Incident fame. Appropriately, the title means "joy" in Kidjo's native language of Yoruba. Oyaya!, the third part of her global trilogy that previously explored African roots in American (Oremi) and Brazilian (Black Ivory Soul, featuring her wonderful pairing with Dave Matthews on "Iwoya") music, examines Caribbean styles and rhythms from just about every conceivable angle.
Among the 13 Kidjo originals (all written with husband Jean Hebrail) assembled here, none can be judged anything less than spectacular. Consider, for instance, "Ou La La," set to an explosive meringue beat and sung in Fon (with Andy Narrell working his special brand of magic on the steel drum), or the deeply passionate bolero ballad "N'Yu Wan Nou We," or the mazurka "Le Monde Comme un Bebe" that teams her with 86-year-old French Guiana superstar Henri Salvador, or the plena-based antiviolence anthem "Bissimilai," featuring a rousing female chorus of Beninese Muslims. If, however, a single nugget must be extracted from this bountiful goldmine, it is the urgent ska anthem "Mutoto Kwanza" that speaks to the devastation caused to children by HIV and AIDS throughout Tanzania while simultaneously reminding us of Kidjo's selfless work as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.