Angelique Kidjo: Football and music are universal

Internationally acclaimed recording artist Angelique Kidjo, newly arrived in Switzerland for the start of her European tour, popped into FIFA headquarters this Friday. Diminutive in size, but not in stature or personality, Kidjo is a passionate fan of sport in general and football in particular, and she had no qualms about requesting a hearing with the FIFA President.

Present at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ draw in Cape Town in December, she admits that she now gets so excited about football that she can no longer watch matches on television from start to finish. In an interview with FIFA.com, the legendary vocalist gave her views on the beautiful game, what it has in common with music and the role of the FIFA World Cup.

Angelique, could you tell us why we have the pleasure of your company at FIFA today?
First and foremost because I love football, but also to discuss how sport can be used as a force for good, in terms of social problems in Africa, education and the rehabilitation of children who find themselves victims of war. Football has the power to unify, to give confidence back to young people, so that they can take charge of their lives without external assistance. I’m trying to take a long-term view, and I think that’s what FIFA is doing too.

Are you convinced that the FIFA World Cup can benefit Africa?
The FIFA World Cup can certainly offer up a different image of Africa to the rest of the world, who perhaps don’t realise how proud people are – all over Africa – that the continent is hosting the event. When you speak to children, you see that they all feel like champions already. It makes them want to hold their heads up high, despite the difficulties that they often endure in day-to-day life. Irrespective of the fact that it’s due to take place in South Africa, the event belongs to all of Africa. Lastly, the tournament offers South Africa the opportunity to present a new image to the rest of the continent. It’s important to remember that for a long period, South Africa was distanced from the rest of us because of Apartheid. Football will enable we Africans and viewers all around the world to see the whole continent in a different light, and that is already a victory of sorts.

What kind of legacy do you think this competition will leave in Africa?
The World Cup will produce more champion athletes. Seeing great players from all over the world taking part in the tournament will inevitably start many young African boys dreaming. They’ll all be saying to themselves ‘I’d like to be a champion, too!’ If we can manage to combine social improvements with the World Cup, we’ll have a win-win situation on our hands. In Africa, people often think that if you want to follow a sporting or musical career, education is not important. My father always said to me: ‘So you want to be a singer? Fine. But if you don’t get a degree, there’ll be no singing.’ This World Cup has the potential to generate the talents of tomorrow, and if we can provide them with a good education, we’ll end up with well-rounded sportsmen and women who are educated as well as accomplished. They’ll be more aware of how to manage their careers and will be able to return to their countries to pass on the valuable knowledge they have acquired. This snowball effect is what interests me the most. I love football as a game, and may the best team win, but what this World Cup can bring to Africa is more profound than I could ever put into words. It may well be years until we see the knock-on effects.

What parallels do you draw between football and music?
The two are universal. There can be trouble anywhere in the world, but if a football match starts up, calm is restored. Music has the same effect. Performing in war zones has never frightened me because I know that as soon as the music begins, I’ll have the undivided attention of everyone, be they friend or foe. Music provides a moment of shared joy - it brings us together and helps us to grow. Music and football have always gone hand-in-hand. I remember matches in Benin where the crescendo of drums was an integral part of the spectacle. Stadiums without music are just not the same, and music always plays a role post-match, too – win, lose or draw. It is part of daily life in Africa; it’s played every moment of every day. In our part of the world, music and football have always been intrinsically linked.

Why do you feel that a musician could be a good ambassador for the FIFA World Cup?
First, because I played football when I was little. With seven brothers, I didn’t really have a choice! My brothers often needed a goalkeeper, as they knew I was quick and agile. I could be intimidating, too. Despite my tiny size, I was good at putting off the big forwards that used to come bearing down on my goal. As a keeper, football enabled me to understand one essential thing, which has also proved to be a crucial element in my musical career: teamwork. I accept constructive criticism; I listen to my team. I’ve always found that two heads are better than one, that if we work together towards the same goal, we can get much more done. That’s what I learned from football. In football, you’re all creating something together, if only for 90 minutes. The other common denominator between sport and music, I believe, is that you have to possess a certain level of fitness before you perform. My parents always told me that ‘your voice is powered by a body, so make sure you look after it.’

Have you been following the CAF African Cup of Nations?
Yes, I’ve been trying to catch some of it. It pained me to see what happened in Cabinda. When violence touches a peaceful, unifying event such as this one, it makes no sense; I just don’t understand such a sudden eruption of violence. But we need to persist in using football and music as a way of getting people all over the world, especially in Africa, to sit down around a table and talk about peace. My dearest wish is that we will one day see peace reign in Africa, brought about by sport and music, and by dialogue resulting from these universal passions.