Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Feb 12th 2008 12:00PM by Steve Hochman
Well ... she had a "but" to add. Without even being asked a question, the outspoken Benin-born star has some things to say about the very existence of a world music category in the Grammys. "What do they call world music?" she said sharply. "I don't know what it is."
It's not that she would prefer the category to be called something else. "One thing that disturbs me: categorizing," she continued. "Why do we categorize people? I don't like that. Stupidity is universal! I've seen it north, south, west, everywhere I've been. It doesn't matter what language you speak."
And it's hardly that she's an anti-Western snob. "I've been living in America for a long time. People in Europe say, 'How can you live in America?' Give me a break! I'm living where you want to be. When I was first coming here, a journalist in France said, 'Americans are stupid. They only listen to their music.' "
She sniffed in disdain. Though, as she said, stupidity is not restricted geographically or culturally, and she is also fighting misconceptions about Africa, musically and otherwise.
"The music of Africa is the music of the world," she said, on a roll. "Without the blues, there wouldn't be music in America like it is. I find Africa everywhere I go. We are all Africans. And despite the media information about what's going on in Africa -- it's portrayed with war, diseases. But I've met wonderful women putting food on the table for their children, men working to make a better world. We don't sing for wars. I sing for human beings.
"Through music, each one of us can take what is in him to move on in our life and make change in this world," Kidjo continued. "In the globalization era, what I'm realizing as the mother of a 14-year-old is that the identity of each of us is in danger. When you say, 'I'm proud to be American,' people look at you like you're stupid. We all have to be recognized for what we do. There is only one humanity."
As for the category, she concludes: "Let us just call everything music." And yet here she was accepting an award for world music. "When they call my name," she said, with a grin, "I'll be there!"
Misconceptions about Africa were also on the mind of the other victorious world music act, the Soweto Gospel Choir, which won best traditional world music album with their "African Spirit." Musical director Lucas Bok, who represented the 26-member troupe at the ceremony along with choreographer Shimmy Jiyane, said that the group's mission is to present the best of the "new" South Africa.
"We are trying to showcase South African life we live, we as a people," Bok said. "We have grown as a people. We are not so apart as we used to be, and that's what we want to show -- that we as South Africans have united and are this great rainbow nation."
Category distinction was also on the mind of another winner. Jose Hernandez, leader of Texas-rooted Little Joe y la Familia, wanted to share some thoughts about winning this year's Tejano music Grammy for the venerable group's tribute to the late Freddy Fender, 'Before the Next Teardrop Falls.' The thing is, he noted, the band's previous Grammy win in 1992 was under the banner of Mexican-American music.
"I didn't change my music," he said. "They changed the [definitions for] music they submit to Mexican-American. Last year I submitted two works, one to Mexican-American, one to Tejano, and both were accepted, but before the deadline they said it could only be Tejano. There are a lot of groups like mine that play the same kind of music I do that are Mexican-American. They don't consider themselves being Tejano --Tejano being Texan, limited to Texan music only."
The problem, it seems, is that Mexican and Mexican-American are lumped together in a combined category. "You can readily see what Mexican music is, like my friend Vicente Fernandez," he said, citing one of the top Mexican ranchera singers, who was nominated, but didn't win, in Mexican/Mexican-American. "Mexican-American music is an art form of American music, and it's not the Mexican music that's in the Mexican-American category."