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Angelique Kidjo Headshot

A Tribute to My Mother, Who Taught Me to Succeed Against the Odds

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I often reflect on my very fortunate journey. I was born and raised in Benin in a poor family in one of the poorest nations on Earth. Against all odds, I was able to achieve my dream. As a little girl I would sing in front of the mirror, and today I am fortunate to travel the world singing my music in the greatest of concert halls. It makes me wonder: How did I get this far?

A couple of years ago, a Canadian journalist went to Benin to film a documentary on my life and she interviewed my 85-year-old mother. Right away my mother told the journalist: "I taught Angelique everything she needed to know to be a singer." My first reaction was to laugh loudly, but thinking it over, I realized she was absolutely right!

She gave me my first break as a performer in the play she had created. "You want to be on stage?" she asked. "Then get ready to be naked spiritually. Be true to yourself as great artists never hide anything." She taught me how to withstand criticism; after each of my early concerts, the whole family would gather and comment on my various shortcomings. That was hard!

Those days in Benin, a teenage girl singing like me was looked upon with the same scorn as a prostitute, but she told me: "Don't be defined by the way people look at you, follow your own dream." With the active support of my Dad, she gave me an inestimable gift: the gift of education. They told me sure, I could be a singer, but only if I went to school. That was not negotiable. A great artist, they said, needs to understand the world in all of its beauty but also its complexity. If today I'm not afraid to speak out in the media and with passion about my continent, it is because my mother gave me the gift of education and the courage not to be defined by others. Only my own sense of right and wrong should carry me through.

Over the years, the African continent has given me so much beauty, so much inspiration. All of my music is carried by the indomitable spirit of Africa. That is why I always try to find a way to give back. My dream is for every girl in Africa to have the same chance that I had, with parents who understand that freedom and independence are only possible through education.

For this Mother's Day, I want to pay tribute to my mom Yvonne. She still has a great influence on my life. On my last recording, she proudly sings with me on "Bana," a Congolese song from her own childhood in Congo!

But this Mother's Day has a bitter taste for me; my heart is broken for those 200 Nigerian girls who have been abducted as they pursued their dreams in the normal act, for most of us, of going to school.

No girl should be denied an education. It is a human right. In many parts of the world there is a new trend to deny access to girls education. On this very special day, lets show a unified front and engage in the fight for all girls to go to school. I honor you Yvonne as I honor all mothers who fight for the rights of their daughters and stand firm for the freedom of girls worldwide.