The African-born musician talks about the places that mean the most to her

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2013

A Grammy-award-winning singer whose career spans three decades, ten albums and many collaborations, Angélique Kidjo has been a Unicef goodwill ambassador since 2002. Her foundation, Batonga, supports the education of girls. Born in Benin, she has lived in Paris and New York, but her choice of wonders is suffused with the sights and smells of Africa

HOTEL GoldenEye, Jamaica (below)

When it comes to hotels I’m kind of picky. I need them to be comfortable, but not anonymous: they need to have soul. So I would choose something a little more than a hotel, like the GoldenEye Resort in Jamaica. It belongs to Chris Blackwell, a mentor of mine, and it was formerly the home of Ian Fleming. The rooms have kitchens, so you can cook for yourself and eat out on the verandah. There’s a shower outside so you go out and you wash under the trees with nature: I haven’t done that in a million years! It brought me back to Africa in a way. I go there any time I want to get rest, get away and to be with my family.

BUILDING Royal Albert Hall, London
I’ve performed at a lot of places, like Carnegie Hall in New York and the Sydney Opera House, but the building that impressed me the most was the Royal Albert Hall. Somehow it appears that every single person there is part of the show. When you’re on stage you can see into people’s eyes as if they are right next to you. The sound and the colour of the stone outside are amazing too. Before my show I looked at all these photographs on the walls and I just knew I had to live up to the legends of the great people who had performed there. I looked at them and I felt humbled.

CITY Olinda, Brazil
Olinda is in north-east Brazil, not far from Recife. It sits on top of a hill and although it’s a city you feel that, like in a village, people know each other. Tall buildings give a feeling of being out of touch with people. There aren’t many here so there’s a sense of equality: everything is at the same level pretty much, and I like that. It has the calmness of a place that’s been there for centuries. You feel it telling you: "Hold on, I’m older than you; pay attention and look around!"

JOURNEY Crossing the Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah
The journey that really struck me was travelling 50 miles through this desert. Small mountain ranges crisscross through and around it: Cedar Mountains, Silver Island Mountains, Lakeside Mountains, Grassy Mountains…That’s all you can see: just white salt and the mountains from afar. I was on a tour bus with my husband and fellow musicians and we woke up to that. We were all at the windows like kids! Everything is just a series of straight lines, look at it for a little while and you get dizzy. You feel like maybe you’ve had too many mushrooms. It’s crazy, but beautiful crazy.

VIEW Paris from the Place du Sacré Coeur
From here you can see all of Paris at once. When you see it from that perspective you feel like you are on top of it. From here you can see the roofs, all the different types of roofs, and you can notice which buildings are very old and which ones are new. I usually like to go there alone, but in 1999 that is where I went to watch the solar eclipse. Of course everybody wanted to see it from there too, and the togetherness was part of the experience. When you witness something like that, with all the people of the world, it makes you realise that you are part of something bigger than yourself, that you are not alone in the world.

WORK OF ART Ife Terracotta heads from the Oyo Kingdom, Nigeria
When we talk about Ife works of art we always talk about the bronzes, made by the men. We don’t talk much about the women and their terracotta figures. They’re not just art; it’s soothing work and it keeps you quiet. Some of the figures are over 1,000 years old, and before photography they were how we recognised the faces of the king or queen. The Met Museum’s "Heroic Africans" exhibition in New York last year showed these sculptures. Seeing them reminded me of home and the history of our people, it reminded me to be proud of who I am and where I’ve come from.

BEACH Ouidah, Benin (below)
I love beaches. When I was growing up in Benin I would get woken by the prayer call of a nearby mosque at 5 o’clock. I would get up and run on the sand. Nobody would be there, it was always just me, alone, and it would feel really good. This beach is next to a fishermen’s village where my ancestors come from and early in the morning the men go out in their canoes to fish. It’s known as "the beach of no return", because it was once a place where the slave ships left from. I go there now for inspiration, especially when I’m writing something and I’m stuck. I just sit and look at the horizon or rest my head on the beautiful sand and turn everything off a little.

Angélique Kidjo was talking to Kassia St Clair, our editorial assistant. 

She will perform at the Schloss Elmau in Germany on May 10th, at the Afrika Ourverture Festival in Austria on May 11th and at the Dome in Brighton on May 12th

Image Christian Horan/ Handout