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September 9th, 2009
Time for School Series
Interview: Angelique Kidjo

Benin-born singer and songwriter Angelique Kidjo rose to fame in Africa as a teenager and became an international star with a Grammy win for the album “Djin Djin.” Yet before she achieved worldwide renown, Kidjo struggled to obtain what many in the developed world take for granted — access to education. She was appointed UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador in 2002. She initially became involved as a global education expert in the second episode of Time for School, and has since lent her extraordinary voice to the film series. She spoke with WIDE ANGLE host Aaron Brown about her experience with education in Africa.

AARON BROWN:
If people only knew your family history, you would almost be the poster child of the girl from Africa who never gets educated. You’re the seventh of nine children in a poor country. So, how exactly did you become you?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
I become me because of my parents. It started with my mom and dad. Both of them were educated. And when they married, they vowed that they’re gonna send all their kids to school, because it’s the best investment ever – for our future. They always say to us, “The choice you made is your choice, because it’s your life. We as the parents, we all are gonna be as a steady wall on which you can lean on any time. We can’t make the choices for you. Make the right choice — we can help you there.”

So, my father has been the only one really with a salary every month, because he was the only one working. My mom was the housewife. And how he managed to send ten kids to school is something that I’m still trying to figure out today, in that poor country. Not only paying the school tuition, but the uniform to boot. And managed to have a teacher for all – to do our homework when we come back home.

So, that’s why I become who I am today. Because since I was a child I was brought up with the idea that if you are educated, you can do whatever you want. They give me the strength of believing me and myself. My father and my mother always used to tell us, “You are one among the world or you are the world. It depends how you position yourself. A human being is not a matter of color. Do not blame your failure or your success on your skin color. That is not a good excuse in this house.” So, they taught at my early age to be open to the world – not to see the world just in my house.

AARON BROWN:
One of the things you said just now, and one of the impediments to educating children in developing countries, is even if the school itself is free, the uniform costs money –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
The book.

AARON BROWN:
The books cost money. So, governments can promise – and do – free public education, but it turns out, it’s not free at all.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Uh-huh.

AARON BROWN:
And then there is the other problem, which, of course, is if the child is in school all day, the child isn’t at home.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Helping.

AARON BROWN:
Yeah.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
(UNINTEL PHRASE). Especially when it comes to girls. I was in Ethiopia doing– some work with UNICEF on gender inequality, workplace and schools, and we had a panel of discussion. And as we were ready to discuss with many different people, moderators male and female, a young girl came in from Sudan. It was still the war in Sudan, and she was from the minority that was really [being] attacked there.

She was — her skin was dark. Then we start talking – being very intellectual – and then she just quietly raised her hand and said, “I just have to make a point clear here. Before we start talking about gender inequality, we have to talk about the status of a girl in a family. Because when you are a girl and you are born in Africa, you have no identity. You are the child of your father, more than the child of your mother. And your father have the right to decide if you are able to dream, to decide your own life, or if you’re gonna be married very early. Before we start talking about gender inequality, that’s what is the foundation of what we have to talk about.”

And it’s true. Because the early marriage is decided most of the time by the father. And the father brought that to the mother. And the mother have no say, because the mother is not educated most of the time. So, here I am in a family where my father has stood up and said, “My three girls will go to school. And no one will come to this house and tell me what I have to do.”

AARON BROWN:
Do you know where your father came to that notion that not only will his boys be educated, but that his girls will be educated?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
I think he get that from his mother. Because my grandmother become a widow when she was 35 years old. She became a widow. The mother of my mother, too – both of them, pretty much the identical destiny. At that time, when you become a widow, you marry the brother of your husband or somebody from the family, which my grandmother refused to do. She refused to do that. And on top of that, you have the church really involved in the family life. When you’re a widow and you’re wife of the man, you are not allowed to marry outside of the house. So, she decided she was gonna go to see the Pope, in Rome. She was one of the [few] women in Benin at that time to have a French Passport, because Benin had been colonized by the French. So, she went to Rome and asked to see the Pope at the Vatican, which she succeeded in doing. How she did it, she didn’t tell me the details.

And the Pope say, “Okay, it’s whatever you want to do – go do it.” So, she came back. What did she do? She took the fabric – African fabric that we have – from home trading to the market, and called the women. And she called them together, saying, “Let’s do this.” Because, she said, “I want to make a living to send my kids to school. I don’t want to prostitute and I don’t want to be passed on as the merchandise to another man. I’m a human being with feelings. And I can think for myself. Thank you.”

So, my father have that from his mother. And his mother was fiscally fighting for him to go to school. She sacrificed so much for her only son to go to school. He went first to Daka, in a city where the Fon, the people that work for the government are, and then he came to Paris. And he studied there. And when he came, he was among the first intellectuals, before colonization finished. And he start workin’ under the French Government at a post office.

AARON BROWN:
In no sense, honestly, are you an average Beninian.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Yes, I am.

AARON BROWN:
No, you’re not. You’re not. And you’re not for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that your father saw, literally, the world.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Absolutely.

AARON BROWN:
And that alone made you different. Whether it made you destined for something, I have no idea. But it certainly made you different.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
It does. I always say that without my family, I won’t be here. And my mom and dad, they said, “You are our family. You are all we have. You have to go to school.” Because my mom is a single kid. And my father become a single kid, when he lost his sister. So, therefore, all the world was only around us. “How are we gonna arrange for you guys to become whoever you want to be?”

And my father said, “Simple. You want to sing you go to school, you get an education. You do not sing without going to school. God forbid something happen, you can find a job. And it is the same rule for boys and girls equally. You say to me you don’t want to go to school, because you can’t get it. You want to do something else. Tell me what it is. Well, you’re not gonna sit in my house not going to school and expecting me to feed you. You’ve gotta have a job. If you want to go to school, you want to learn tailoring, I will send you to that. You need to have a job.”

And now, as I’m sitting here talking about this, I realize the sacrifice it took my parents, to put us in that position. Pressure was not there at all. At a very early age, I learned to deal with my time. My father said, “This is the rule in the house. Lunch is going to have to be at lunchtime. Dinner time, you have to be there. What you do in between, I don’t want to know. (LAUGH) But if you’re not there for those two things for us to catch up and talk about what’s going on, then we have a problem.”

And he made another rule. He said, “Our house is an open place of for speech, free speech. There will never be a taboo subject in this house. If there’s any problem, we need to hear it from you. Drugs we can talk about. Sex we can talk about. Anything out there, we need to hear from you, because we don’t want people to put wrong ideas in your head. We don’t have the answer, believe us, but we’re gonna find the answer for you. But please talk to us.”

So, today, I don’t take any lightly anymore. That’s what I’m trying to pass on to my daughter. Because it’s such a richness that my parents – I mean, I feel blessed. I feel small and I feel empowered at the same time. Wherever I go, I go confident. Because I know something happens to me in the world. If money is down under the feet of a table, they’ll go find it and come and get me.

My family, we are all one. Because that’s how we have been raised. And one of the concerns of my father, before he passed away, was to tell me, “Do not be afraid. Do not be scared. My body might not be here, but I’ll always be with you. Stay one family. Do not let anger get in between you. Because if you start getting angry, people will find the gap they need to explode you. Do not give into anger. Always talk.”

AARON BROWN:
I rest my case, by the way, that you are not an average Beninian. But we’ll move on. I want to disagree with something you said – or I’ve read that you’ve said, and I assume it’s true. You were talking about education, the importance of education, and you said – “Educated parents appreciate more the value of education.” And I thought about that. And I remembered a farmer that I met at the beginning of this summer who had gone to maybe two years of school. I asked him about what he wanted for his children. He had no education to speak of, and he said, “No matter what I have to do, I want them to have a life better than mine, easier than mine. And the only way they can have that is to have what I do not have.”

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Education.

AARON BROWN:
Education. So, I’m not so sure that there is this difference between the parent who is educated and the parent who isn’t in how they value the education.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
There are differences. I’ll tell you what the differences are. First, if they’re educated, they understand the long education cycle. Because they know that more educated you are, more chances you are to change you – to really make a big change in your life and other people’s life. The parents that are not educated, they are realizing, late in their life, that if they have been educated, their life would be better. Therefore, they want a better life for their kids.

Are they willing to sacrifice all the way up to university? Not many of them will do that, because it’s a long process. I will come back to Benin, for example. Or take the example of Nanavi in the Wide Angle report. When I first saw Nanavi in 2003 and the father was still there, I was so happy. I’m like, “That is one thing that can help you go to university.” Why? Because Nanavi is not growing up in city. She’s growing up in a little village. When you go to villages, the society is based differently. Everyone is much more closer to one another, and there are people that might not be from your family, but they have a say in your family, because they are important for the community. Like the voodoo priest, in our village.

Nanavi, by having her father on her side, have more chance to finish high school. But the father was not educated. But because he saw what education could have done to him, he will go to that extent. But that doesn’t mean that the community around Nanavi will be willing to sacrifice everything for Nanavi to go to university. That’s what I’m afraid of. And I’m at the same time also hopeful.

AARON BROWN:
Yeah, I don’t think I disagree with that. But I guess I’ve come to a certain certainty in my life that the difference between parents is actually very small from one society to another society — from the poor to the rich. We all, as parents, want for our kids—

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
The best.

AARON BROWN:
Or better. Better than what we had. And if you had nothing, and many people in African villages have something very close to nothing – even if they can’t express it as eloquently as you can, they get that the ticket out is to go to a schoolhouse.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Yeah, but it’s not long ago that that has to have been like that.

AARON BROWN:
Yeah.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Because I grow up in Benin. When I was going to school, I’ve had friends that come from villages before parents. And some of them drop out of school, because first of all, they have to leave the family – to come miles away to go to school. And when you are sent with family, friend or whoever to stay in a city to go to school, or just to go to high school, there’s a lot of pressure on the family, to pay for this or to pay for that.

And at the same time, there’s one thing that we don’t take into account, that we don’t think about most of the time – that when people are poor, as they are poor in villages, their pride is what they cherish the most. And if that sacrifice has to touch their pride, they will cut it off. That’s just simple the way it is, because they can’t lose their pride.

And sometime, some of them – if they have one person in the family that is educated, that person in the family that is educated will go and be the advocate and say, “Your pride versus the education of the child, how do you weigh it? How do you do it?” Because that person is part of the community. It’s not perceived as interfering in the family. And they listen better. That’s why I always say that somebody that’s educated is an asset more than anything else in any kind of setting in Africa for a child to go and stay in school.

Let’s come back to girl’s education. If my mother was not educated, you think that my mother was educating? You think he cares about vaccination? It’s not his business. He won’t take care of it. He will think about it, but he won’t do it. But because my mom was educated, I have been one of the rare kids in school that have more vaccination than anybody else. (LAUGH) It gives me the nickname of white kid, because I have all vaccination. I mean, every time summer was over, my mom would make sure that I’ve done all the vaccinations, all the tests have been done, and I’m starting school fine.

Because if you sick, you miss one week or two week, you have to catch up later on. My father supported it, would pay for the vaccination if he had to pay it. But most of the time, it was UNICEF truck that would come around. And my mom had that little paper. I had that paper like – as soon as I saw that truck, I was like [screaming] “The truck is coming.” She would write everything down. And then you knew that you were in for another shot.

AARON BROWN:
And you believe that had she not had the education she had, she wouldn’t have known to do the things like that?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Absolutely. She can’t even write down the date of the first shot.

AARON BROWN:
Okay. Which leads to this question. Is the value of education – girls or boys, doesn’t really matter – that they learn science and learn history and learn geography and whatever? Or is the value something else? That they learn something about – that they become more confident? That they have a greater sense of pride in themselves? Which is the value or the greater value?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
They learn. Both of them are complementary. You have to learn to know science, geography, history – your whole own history and the world history. Because what education does, it expose you, for you to see the world differently, outside of your little box. The value that your family give you compliments that. I am proud of who I am, why? Because my mom and dad has always told me, “You are not inferior or superior to no one.”

AARON BROWN:
Right.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
That education is not in school that you have it. Your parents have to give you that. Or your surrounding community. So, when you go to school and you start learning. Because when I was in school and we start learning the history of the First World War, the Second World War, I had no idea those war happened. Because I was not born.

And then I start reading the fact, and I’m like saying to myself, “Was it necessary? All those deaths?” That was my first question to my history teacher. Such as the First World War. And he said to me, “I don’t know. History will – time will tell if it was necessary or not. But that is the fact that I have to give you. That that war had happened.” Why do you learn that? For that not to happen anymore. I’m afraid of another third world war. Because there are so many crazy people out there that doesn’t value life as much as I do.

So, if you can talk to those people, from what you have learned in your history class, you teach people every time. Before you talk to a leader, you have to be able to talk to somebody in your village that is violent, that always like to fight. You have that fact. It’s not the war, but violence leads to actions. If you have to hit somebody – if your only way of responding to a conflict is to fight – there’s something wrong in that.

AARON BROWN:
I want to bring you back to where we were for a second. The child in the village in rural Mozambique, girl or boy, for whatever reason, gets to go to school. Let’s just say they finish school, and they do well in school. In the course of their lives, is what matters there that they understand the elements? They know the elements in science or something? Or that every time they look in the mirror they see someone who accomplished something?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Uh-huh.

AARON BROWN:
Is that the greater value?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Yeah, it is. If you combine both of them, absolutely.

AARON BROWN:
Yeah.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Because you have learned something that gives you greater pride in who you are. And that is important. You go to school. You learn. And you’re not proud of yourself. You cannot use that knowledge from school in your own life. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you see a double face. It’s difficult. There’s a book that has been written by a Senegalese writer, called L’Aventure Ambigue, and the writer’s name is Cheik Hamidou Kane.

And it was all the question about the chronicles – the chronic school, and the school where you learn math and science. How do you combine both? When you come out of those two, and you want to become minister or teacher, whatever you decide to be in your country, how do you combine those two things? That’s why it’s called the Ambiguous Adventure. And the whole quest of a human being is that. How do you combine your value, the education you receive from your family, the education you receive in school, and this speedy world in which we are living?

If you don’t go to school and learn about science, relativity, history, geography, genetics, most of the time people will be talking you gonna be like, “Hello? What is he talking about?” You don’t have to know them deeply, like a scientist will do it. But at least you have an idea what we talking about. And then you can take that, what you learn, and put it in your life, or somebody else life. And you can say, “Oh, I remember this and that. So, this is what it was.” How can we, in the future, not make this happen?

There are a lot of deaths in Africa. For example, when it comes to child mortality, it brings back again, education. A mother that is educated, at least even a primary education, have a sense of hygiene, of sanitation. So many kids can be saved. Tetanus kills more and more than Malaria. Why? Because most of the women that give birth in rural area, to cut the umbilical cord, what do they have? The kitchen knife. That’s it. You don’t vaccinate it. That child will live a week. So, a woman that goes to school knows, even if she’s in pain, she’s gonna go, “Don’t put that – just take the knife like that. Just put it in the fire, do something. Remove the bacteria. Boil it. Whatever it is.”

AARON BROWN:
Right.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
So, education today in Africa is a matter of life or death, especially when it comes to women.

AARON BROWN:
Education, particularly to women, is life and death. That’s what you said. Now I’m not the smartest guy in the world and I know that. I get that. The prime ministers of all these countries know that. The parliaments or whatever, they all know that. And yet 75 million children do not go to school in the world. Tens of millions more struggle to stay in school. Why is that?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Why is that? Because it is more interesting for the prime minister and leaders of all those countries to just that time will take care of it or somebody else will come and take care of it. It’s– that was something that I always say. Did the politicians in Africa ever think about what remains their people? Do they have a sense of their population? They drive by in the fancy cars, but do they see their people? They can change only if they start viewing them as assets. So far they haven’t done that.

AARON BROWN:
So we chip away all of the talk about, you know, the kids are needed on the farm or the grocer needed to work in the house – you chip all away that and what you’re left with is that smart, educated people, people who are in charge, don’t really care that much.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Because they wanna keep the power. Power kills. And power have been killing more human beings in the history of humanity than anything else go back to Roman Empire. What was all those war about? Power. So why are we still in these?

AARON BROWN:
So we keep these children not stupid, but uneducated.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Uneducated.

AARON BROWN:
So that we can be in power?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Absolutely. Because more people educated you are, more you are hold accountable to what you do.

AARON BROWN:
Okay. Which brings me to this. If you ask anyone, almost anyone on the planet, you know, do you love kids? They go, “Yeah. I love kids.” “Do you value kids?” “Oh yeah.” “Are kids the future?” “Oh yeah.”

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Yeah.

AARON BROWN:
“We really love kids.” I don’t believe that. ‘Cause if you look, what you see are – children, girls trafficked.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Right.

AARON BROWN:
Children, boys are kidnapped and used in wars. That doesn’t sound very loving to me.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
No.

AARON BROWN:
So I wonder if at the end of the day, you really think we love our children?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Me, I do. But I don’t know for politicians. Politicians are a little bit schizophrenic, I have to say. They say what they what you want to hear when they want you to work for them. But the problem in Africa is even greater than that. We take it back, a big step back. We take it back to the history of the continent. We started with slavery. Slavery started with people that were well educated, well organized, that knew what they were doing. No one can tell me that the slaver didn’t know that they were enslaving other human beings.

And men and women that could have changed the face of my continent have been taken away to build other people’s wealth. Nothing has been done to restore the image and the confidence and the pride of the black people in the world ever. One. That’s the first one.

Second problem. Colonization. We thought colonization were over when we enter the era. The colonizers just moved themselves, but colonization never end ’til today. Apart from South Africa, none of the African countries have been given a chance to be self governing, self sufficient, making mistakes and standing up back on their feet and do it. They have always been under the supervision of the country that colonized them.

None of the countries in Africa actually where I come from have monetary system. How can you talk about economy if your money is linked to a money miles away out of your reality. And then when you started to devalue that money, you can’t bring the kids to school anymore. Second problem.

Now we come to the leaders of Africa. Right after the era of indifference all the African leaders that stood up and say, “We are indifferent, which means we can put our kids to school. We become partner of yours 50/50. We are not only a supervision anymore,” have been killed. Okay?

So you set a sequence of events, send the message clearly lf you wanna be in the way of the interest of the rich country, you gonna be removed. By any means necessary. So the one that having educated, they keep the same pattern. The same people that were educated to be put in place after colonization were over pass on that education to continue keeping the power.

Well, that only when we went down to the people that needed to be educated to become part of the economy of the country. So today what are we facing? We’re talking about education. Is it a lot of money to educate everybody? When I was going to school in Benin the system was a little bit different – before the communist regime arrived and they wiped out all the good education system we had in place.

Since then no politicians that came to power in Benin have worked to restore that. Why? I mean we can talk about education here. I can leave my country in a colorful moment. Let’s compare them to America. For me, coming from a poor country from Africa I cannot understand when somebody tell me there are illiterate people in America. I said, “Excuse me? That is impossible.”

This is the richest country in the world. The biggest in the world. How can you tell me coming from a poor country that in America some children can’t go to school? Naw. When I arrive in America that was my reaction – American, you just joking.

Yet I come to realize that sometimes people would come to me and asking me where is the 42nd Street? And you are right only the person can’t read it. So is it okay in America for people to be illiterate? And not okay in Africa? Because the same politician, they are the same breed everywhere.

When you have the power you don’t want your people that vote for you to question too much what you do. So therefore in Africa the one that I left behind are the women. Because of the society, the way it’s been built before. Women stay at home.

AARON BROWN:
Right.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
And now we are talking about education. It’s a completely different thing. When I start the campaign of UNICEF for the millennium development goals and I started doing PSAs for TV, for radio, to send kids to school – at least primary schools – I didn’t know at that time the impact that I was having on my continent because of my family.

Because now suddenly the mothers and the fathers that love my music and love what I do put education with my face. It’s okay to send my girl to school if one of them become Angelique Kidjo. All becomes next president of this country. Fine. We haven’t had in Africa for so many, many, many, many years strong female role models in politics.

AARON BROWN:
I don’t disagree with that at all. But this isn’t just Africa. Children are abused –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Everywhere.

AARON BROWN:
And denied across Asia – in Thailand, families in villages sell their girls, their little girls, 12-year-old girls, into prostitution. In Indonesia there are terrible – of course, Africa’s always the best example – too frequently the worst situation. But is that the only example? And so I’ve found myself pondering this question. Do we really love our children the way we say we love our children, or is that just something we say because who would say they don’t love children? No one.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Some do really love the kids and they would give everything for the children. We cannot generalize that we do not love our children. But one thing that is really – I would say the danger, the greater danger, for the future of our children, is poverty in the world.

AARON BROWN:
Sure.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
If we are able to reduce – I’m not saying eradicate poverty; that’s gonna be very difficult – if we are able to reduce poverty to 50 percent of the population of this planet we will then see increasing number of people going to school. Which gonna change the economy.

You have to see what’s going on. Let’s take the economical crisis here. The people that lost a little bit of money, but they are not that much in need. Absolutely not. Who is? The poor people that needs every cent they can save to send the kids to school?

Those who know that education is the best investment of the children. They are the ones struggling. Why? Because the one that have the biggest part in the hand, they’re the minority in the world, and are not willing to share. So how do we make them share? That I don’t know.

AARON BROWN:
I wanna go back to something you just said. You talked about how your fame, your celebrity, gets people to think in Africa. You’re a daughter of Africa. You are famous in Africa. They hold you in great pride – with great pride in Africa. And you get all that. Is that ever a burden?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
It is a responsibility. It is not a burden.

AARON BROWN:
Never feel overwhelmed by all those little girls who look at you and say, “If I could only go to school I could be like her.”

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
I can’t allow myself to be overwhelmed because if I am I won’t be able to help that girl. Believe me, sometime it’s tough. Sometime I cry my eyes off. And then in that moment I’m like, “God help me. How much pain can I take?”

Yet, the kids turn around and give me the strength, the love that I need to go out there and fight for them. I cannot leave those kids unheard. I cannot let them – the dream never become true. Especially when a girl comes to me and say, “This is what might be. Forgive me.”

Her sister – there were two sisters. They lost their father and the mother and there were only two left. And both of them were HIV positive. The older sister died and she was still in that school. The only thing that she had from her sister is a painting that she painted. With a tear coming out of her face, she said, “Enough of this from HIV/AIDS. Enough is enough.” And she said to me – she never knew me – “I want you to have this.” And I break in tears. Because those kids, no matter what, they still have faith in us all. It’s not because we’re black or because we’re white. Because they see that if they speak to our heart our life – their life will be different.

And so people take advantage of that. We’re not all the same. I’m not saying that we are all angels here because human nature is not only goodness. I know that. I’ve experienced that. But at least everything I can do in my power with this help of others that can change anyone’s life in this world, starting in my continent all the way down to America, I will do. I can’t sit.

If somebody’s life in is danger, a child or an adult, and I have the possibility to stop it, I can’t sit back and watch. I don’t care if by doing that, by trying to save somebody’s else life, I lost mine, because a life of a human being is above it all for me. Is above money. Is above power. And we cannot – it’s not discussable. It’s not changeable. It’s what we are. It’s the essence of humanity. We lose that and we lose everything.

AARON BROWN:
I just wanna ask a couple more things if I may. It’s interesting to me that you actually on the one hand, you’re pretty cynical.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Uh-huh.

AARON BROWN:
And on the other hand, you’re quite an idealist. I mean you’re an –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Yeah, I am.

AARON BROWN:
– interesting combination of both. (LAUGHTER) Let me suggest to you that if we really wanted to – if we really cared, all of us – I submit we would educate those children, every single one of them. Okay? We would somehow figure out how to do it. We’d get ‘em in a uniform, get ‘em a history book, get ‘em a schoolhouse, find ‘em a teacher. I don’t care if they live in Benin or in Biloxi, Mississippi, we would educate them if we really cared. I’m not sure we really care that much.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
We care but we are trapped in our lifestyle. That’s just the plain choice. You say I was idealistic, but I’m realistic too. That might make me cynical, but you have to know what you are against or to go around it and find other solutions. We are living in a world where more and more our brain is not in demand that much anymore. Everything is brought to you in an easie way in the developed world. You have computer. You wanna know something, you go on Google and then you do it and then you find it. The food we eat, we got no power over it. Somebody decide to put something out there that taste good and kill people, who can fight against that? You can’t. Why? Because, again, our lifestyle, we want everything that is up. Like cell phones. We know now that without customs that mineral– and that material– we can have video games or cell phones.

And we know that there’s a place in the world where customs is at the heart of the war. Where women are raped with guns, without guns and in every horrible way we can think about. But does that mean that we don’t want a cell phone? Are we ready to give away our cell phone? Are we willing to give away our video games? We are not willing to. Even if we want to. Even if we care for our children. This lifestyle that we have created, and we call it the lifestyle of the civilized people, it is our jail.

AARON BROWN:
But then I wonder this: If we don’t really, in our hearts as a world – whatever exactly that means – If we don’t really care about these kids and whether they get educated, aren’t you sellin’ ‘em a bill of goods? ‘Cause you go out there and you go village to village, town to town, place to place. And you say to these children, “You can be anything. You can get an education. Don’t give up. Stay in school. You’ll be –”

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Oh no.

AARON BROWN:
– “powerful,” blah, blah, blah, blah. But we don’t care enough to do it. And so you are raising –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
I care.

AARON BROWN:
You care. But you are raising a false hope.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
No way. I will follow that hope down because I know – I was telling you, when you were talking about the fact that we don’t care for our children, that we can’t generalize because people do care. And people that care, I reach out to them and they help me.

I believe more. I believe we can make, we can do. I believe in you, me and regular people to devote their time, their talent and their money to that cause. Because if you start going to the politicians, we’re not gonna be able to do it. At one point I have to go to them, but we have to start from this crutch, something in bringing to half labor and say, “This is what we have achieved.”

And this has a lot of attention in the world. So if they don’t wanna help us, put it up there. Then we’re gonna expose you. The politicians’ egos are greater than anything else in the world. They will not have the name next to it, so why don’t you use them? That’s how you go around this.

And people care. I refuse to believe that people do not care. People do care. And I can’t tell you why I say that. Many people constantly during my concerts say, “Angelique we wanna help. What do we do?” How can we do this? Do we have enough information out there for people to know what to do?

A lady come to me and said, “I can take a year off as a nurse and go to Malawi,” because I was talking about the Malawian homes, because they have villages that take care of women that are HIV positive, and that are delivering baby – how the delivery is done for the child not to be infected affected by HIV/AIDS. And that lady come to me and say, “I will do it.” Hey, I put in call to UNICEF leadership. Because I can. If all of us use our resources I believe in the link between human beings above it all. Because when you link people together, before money comes to play, you see magic happening.

AARON BROWN:
But you know, you go to a little village in Ethiopia or Mozambique or wherever, and you see 100 or 1,000 children and you do your pitch. And maybe one of ‘em, two of ‘em, five of ‘em it works on. And maybe five fathers say, “Yeah, I haven’t thought of that. I’m gonna send my daughter to school too. That’s a good thing.” And the rest of ‘em don’t. And you know that’s true. How do you do it then?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
How do you do it?

AARON BROWN:
No, how do you do it?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
How do I do it? I take what I have. I take what I can get. It’s better than –

AARON BROWN:
And if it’s five, it’s five.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
It’s better five than none. Why should I sacrifice the five because I want all the 1,000 to go? Those five might be my best asset to prove to that village. Because you have to prove – “Look at those five kids.” We can duplicate it. We can do more of that.

Most of the time we talk and there’s no action. People wanna see proof of it. And what is stronger than proof? What is stronger than any, “Oh, you take that child from that family, oh, she is going to France. Oh, he is going to America. He got a scholarship. He’s gonna become a doctor. I want the same for my kid.”

I count on that. I’ve got to believe that. Although if you lose hope in people and you just said, “It’s too overwhelming,” for me, it’s cowardice. Nothing is easy in this world. Nothing comes easy to nobody. So therefore if it’s one child that I can save at the time, I’m doin’ it.

AARON BROWN:
You know what the best part of my life is? I get to meet people like you. (LAUGHTER)

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Thank you so much.

AARON BROWN:
Thank you.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
You’re welcome.

AARON BROWN:
Really nice to meet you.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Thanks. Thank you.

* * *

AARON BROWN:
You’re from Benin. You don’t live there, but it is a part of your soul. You go back there, you see children there who are not in school who should be. But who can’t –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Go to school.

AARON BROWN:
– go to school. And you know because you lived it, that no matter what you do, how many speeches you give, how many concerts you perform in Benin, here, there or anywhere, most of those kids in your lifetime will not go to school. Why do you keep goin’ back?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Hope. I’m a hopeful person. I’m an optimistic person. Just because the history of my life. I come from a poor family, and look what I have achieved. My father was the only one with a salary. When it comes to money, there have been days where we didn’t have food on the table. But education was always there.

I cannot give up. You know, we are not all equal in front of life. You can give the same opportunity to twins. That’s the closest you can have from the same father and mother. They you are never going to choose the same thing. They’re never gonna come exactly the same because that’s just human nature. We are all different but at the same time our difference is our richness.

I crave for difference. Every time I go to a different country and I stand on the stage and before me I see black, yellow, red, Indian, whatever people is out there, I thank God to give me the power of being able to touch people’s souls beyond our differences – beyond the different languages that we speak.

And it is the same thing for me when it comes to education because I know those girls and those boys come to me. Sometimes I’m not even doing a concert. I am in Benin and I am sitting down and a young girl came to me because that year there was no school because the teachers were on strike. And the girl comes to me and says, “Angelique, please, I wanna become a neurophysician. I wanna go to school.”

AARON BROWN:
Okay.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
“Can you help? Can you talk to the government.” Now I went on TV and made an interview and say, “How can you pay teachers that are on strike? The kids are on the street. They wanna go to school. How can you do that? The next year there were no strike. I say, “Lets find a solution but don’t hijack the kids. They wanna go to school. Why don’t you send them to school?” Those kind of things I can do. Because hey, life is beautiful. Life is –

AARON BROWN:
Well, hey life is beautiful if you’re lucky. But for a lot of people in the world, life is not so beautiful.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
And you know what –

AARON BROWN:
And you know that. You –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
I know that.

AARON BROWN:
– see that all the time.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
But you know –

AARON BROWN:
And that’s the point – in many ways the point of these two films has been –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
These films. Yes.

AARON BROWN:
– that for far too many children on this planet, life is not beautiful at all.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Because you don’t choose where you were born. Sometime you’re born in a really tough place. But it takes your determination to make it happen. Because –

AARON BROWN:
That’s –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
It is –

AARON BROWN:
That’s –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
You have to believe that.

AARON BROWN:
No, that’s not fair to –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
It is fair.

AARON BROWN:
No. Listen, that’s not fair to a seven-year-old girl in Benin, or anywhere else, to say, “If you just had more determination it would all work out great.”

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
No. It’s not only determination. It takes –

AARON BROWN:
Thank you.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
– it takes school. If you are given the chance – like Lena, we have given a chance to go to school. And she’s determined because her father, before he died, asked her to complete school. That was her determination. It’s enough for her, to such an extent, to complete an education.

But she needs help from other people. In that movie she’s lucky because at least we’re talking about her. How many girls in Benin like none of these that you can’t show? So for me, what I would like to see happen with this film is to show it in Benin on the TV. Because here it touches only American people. But if Beninese people can see this movie it can change a lot of things, politically in the politics of education of the country. It can give us other girls saying, “Oh, I can go to school too.” We have to bring this tool to help not only organizations that work in education fields, but you have everybody in every level. So determination is important because that’s one thing that my parents have taught me. They say, “We can send you to school. It’s up to you if you wanna complete school. Or not.”

AARON BROWN:
Tell you what. I’ll bring the movie to Benin –

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
All right.

AARON BROWN:
– if you come with me.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
I’ll go with you. I’ll go with you and what we can do – we can go there and have a panel of discussion on TV. Not only in French but English, because one of the things that I miss a lot of in Benin is that you have real people that have a say in education. How we can improve education in villages. In their community – that we don’t hear about.

We bring them with an interpreter and they will speak out what they see and how victims have none of the same food and other kids like Nanavi in Benin. Let’s do that and I’m 100 hundred percent with you. And you’ll see the result.

AARON BROWN:
Let me ask you one more thing. How long have you been married?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Twenty-two years.

AARON BROWN:
Has your husband ever won an argument?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Nope. (LAUGHTER)

AARON BROWN:
I don’t think so.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
Sometime he gets his point across because I give him – you have to give him –

AARON BROWN:
You just – you fake it, though. You don’t really believe him, do you?

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
No, I believe him.

AARON BROWN:
Oh, okay.

ANGELIQUE KIDJO:
I mean, I’m lucky. I mean I have been the luckiest woman on Earth to find a perfect partner. Perfect, so called. Nobody’s perfect. But we have our down side and have our up side. The most important thing that we have in common is we are friends. And we talk about everything.

AARON BROWN:
But he apparently doesn’t need to win an argument. I do occasionally. Nice to see you. Thank you.

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