You are honoring Celia Cruz , the queen of Salsa, in your next album- How did the idea came about?
I was asked to do a special show at Celebrate Brooklyn and put together a tribute to Celia Cruz with Pedrito Martinez and my band and some additional musicians. It was really great and we did it several more times. At the Celebrate Brooklyn show, Philip Glass suggested I do an album of Celia songs. It took several years, but I finally decided to record it last year.
Did you know Celia Cruz? Tell us about her African roots as well?
I met her in the 90’s in Paris at one
of her shows. She invited me to sing Quimbara on stage with her! Celia
sang songs in the 50’s that were inspired by Yoruba traditional songs (Santeria
Is it true that the song Quimbara, your first cover on this album, is the first song you learned growing up in Benin?
It was the first Celia Cruz song I
learned, not my first song ever growing up!
You are joined by drummer Tony Allen (who also worked with Fela Kuti) and Meshell Ndegeocello on this record. How did this amazing collaboration come about?
I’ve known Tony for years. We met in Paris when he was starting his solo career. Tony just also played on Remain in Light. I have also known Meshell for a long time and it has always been a dream to work with her.
Your African roots are never far from your music. You have done a remake of “Talking Heads Remain in Light.” Is there a bigger message, beyond the music by connecting and reach out to different audiences?
African music is the link between all of these styles of music! That is the message.
You are touring a lot—do you enjoy the life on the road? Do you try to get to your home in Brooklyn as much as possible?
I love being on stage, it is my second home. But, I also love home and cherish my time here. I am doing this interview from my apartment in Brooklyn.
You are a well-known activist and you have had your own foundation named Batonga for a while. Can you let us know a bit more about what Batonga’s mission is and what it means?
Batonga is a word I made up when I was a teenage girl to turn away the bullies in Benin. The mission is to help adolescent girls to have access to secondary education or at least mentoring to have the skills they need to have a better life.
We are happy to welcome you back at TOTS on April 16—you are a friend of the Standard Family!
What can we expect from your performance on that night?
I am going to be performing the Celia songs for the first time in the way they were arranged and recorded for the new album.