Angelique Kidjo, the beloved Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter from Benin, has been called “Africa’s greatest living diva” by NPR and “the undisputed queen of African music” by The Daily Guardian. Renowned throughout the world for combining diverse musical influences—including Afro-pop, Caribbean Zouk, Congolese rumba, jazz and gospel—with traditional West African rhythms, her creative music videos explode with infectious joy, energy and color.
Kidjo is equally well known for her activism. A UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002, she has traveled throughout Africa as a passionate advocate for the education of girls. In 2007 she established the Batonga Foundation to support secondary and higher education for girls in Africa who have been orphaned by AIDS, are disabled or poor yet are driven to succeed despite their circumstances.
“Educating girls in Africa gives them the strength and the tools they need to be mothers of change,” Kidjo said when launching the Batonga Foundation. “My mother was educated and she fought for me to go school, despite pressure from many in our extended family who argued that only boys should be educated. And my daughter is now in school. Once an African woman is educated, she fights to ensure both sons and daughter receive an education. From this is born a tradition that is passed on and grows from family to family, from generation to generation—a tradition that is going to change the future for Africa.”
Now Angelique Kidjo is helping underserved children to learn the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique and wants to bring the technique to schools in her country.
The Transcendental Meditation technique is a simple, natural way to relieve stress and boost mental and physical health. Kidjo practices the technique herself, joining a long list of musicians who practice the technique (think Katy Perry, Sheryl Crowe, and Sharon Isbin) to help cope with the stress of performance and long hours on the road.
“It’s not a religion,” Kidjo said of TM. “It’s just good for you.”
Research shows that in schools across the US, TM has been found to help children thrive, and is especially helpful to those who have suffered from PTSD, trauma, poverty or health problems. A study published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology in 2011 reported that the TM technique resulted in 40 percent reduction in psychological distress in secondary school students at an urban school. The study, conducted with at-risk, minority, secondary-school students, showed a 36 percent reduction in overall psychological distress. Significant decreases were also found in trait anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Another study showed a 15 percent increase in graduation rates for a group of US urban students who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique as compared to a non-meditating control group in the same school. The largest effect was found in the most academically challenged students, who experienced a remarkable 25 percent increase in graduation rates.
Schools in Africa are also including the practice of TM in their daily schedule with equally positive results. At Maharishi Secondary School for Girls in Mbali, Uganda, where students practice TM daily, one student said, “When I meditate I feel happier than before. On the other hand, I feel more energetic and improved in my thinking about my life. When I meditate my mind becomes settled and I feel confident in my work. I find that there is more clarity in my mind and I am able to solve any problem, and I am able to socialize with other students due to greater happiness in my life.”
Recently Kidjo shared the stage with Sting and Katy Perry at the Change Begins Within concert in New York, a charitable event sponsored by the David Lynch Foundation to bring the Transcendental Meditation program to underserved children.
The star-studded evening started with a riff by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, then grew silent with a group meditation. After guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin’s “nimble-fingered, fluid guitar picking,” Kenneth Partridge wrote in Billboard, Angelique Kidjo “kicked things up several dozen notches with ‘Mama Africa,’ a lively groover that had the 55-year-old Benin native dancing up the aisles and urging the audience—loaded with well-heeled donors in fancy eveningwear—to sing along with the celebratory chorus.”
Kory Grow at the Rolling Stone reported that Kidjo assured the crowd, “Just because we are talking about meditation doesn’t mean you have to be quiet.” Grow called Kidjo’s performance the liveliest of the evening as she “left the stage and reappeared in front, slowly working her way up the aisles, wiggling her shoulders and high-fiving concertgoers in the expensive seats up front.”
For her music and her activism, Angelique Kidjo has been awarded Benin’s Commander of National Order of Merit for loyal services to the nation. She is included in a number of “Top 100” lists, including “Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World” (the Guardian) and “2014 Most Influential Africans (New African magazine), and has appeared on the cover of Forbes Afrique’s “100 Most Influential Women” issue in 2015.
“For me, education is so crucial because everything goes with it, like healthy politics and development,” she said. “Young people are the hope of my continent. When I watch the children of Africa, all dreams seem possible.”
“We Are One”—Angelique Kidjo stars in Disney’s music video for the Lion King 2