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How Angelique Kidjo Was Nelson Mandela’s Party Starter

Musician Angelique Kidjo had close connections to the late Nelson Mandela. When she was in the red chair to talk about her new book Spirit Rising she told George about her encounters with Mandela and how she found out about his death.

GS: Talk to me about Nelson Mandela.

AK: I was there in 2003. We were doing the first concert for the foundation, 46664, which is his jail cell number. It was my first time there. I walked into the cell and I’m like, "How can you live in this small space? I can’t even move around. And its cold even when you wear socks." I was in shock. You have one chair. And then we walked in and Mandela said, "Welcome to my palace. Would you like to share my bed?" He just cracked me up. Just because everyone was so tense. He wanted to say something to us to loosen us up. We could not believe it. You have to see it. You have to walk in that jail cell to realize that it wasn’t human what happened to him.

GS: The first time you met him, what was that like?

AK: He has the ability, there can be millions of people around you, once he connects with you, the whole place becomes empty. It’s just he and you. And he looked you in the eyes and he talked to you. When we visited Robben Island, I was so shocked and so shy because there were all these big stars there — Beyonce and Peter Gabriel. They said, let’s do a photo op. He grabbed me, put his arm around me. "Come here, my girl. Come, come, come." He said, "Where are you from?" "I’m from Benin." "You singing tonight?" "Yeah." "You going to sing something up-tempo we can dance to?" "Yeah." "Now I know the show’s going to be great." And everytime I did one of those shows, he looked around for me and said, "Oh, you’re here. The party can start now!"

GS: What did you think when you heard he had died?

AK: I knew before everybody. I was in Paris. I went to bed and woke up in the middle of the night and said, “Is this true?” I’m going to wait for the news in the morning .But the next morning, I’m like, he really did this. I didn’t want to go to the funeral ceremony because I know that he’s a very humble and a private person. I did go back, a week after the funeral to do the show I was supposed to do.  It was the first celebration. It was sad, but a lot of joy. It’s Mandela, that’s it.

Angelique Kidjo's interview with George airs Friday, January 31 at 7 p.m. on CBC.


Angolo - Fontana Island

Angelique Kidjo In Benin - Unicef

Eve - Universal Music

Spirit Rising - HarperCollins Publisher

Angelique Kidjo In Kenya - Unicef