There’s a particular set of scenes in Angélique Kidjo and Yemi Alade’s newest music video that may most resonate with immigrants in the West. A Black laborer does grueling work at a shipping yard for an envelope of cash he designates to send back home; the Western Union paperwork in his locker is a beacon of familiarity and a conduit between worlds. The song’s union of 60-year-old Beninese sensation Kidjo and 32-year-old Nigerian star Alade similarly connects countries, generations, and struggles. Inspired by the youth-led protests against police brutality that rocked Nigeria last fall, “Dignity” is a lively call to continued action and an artful remembrance of the lives lost in the demonstrations.
Kidjo and Alade make for a formidable duet. Alade’s performance is incisive and graceful, while Kidjo’s is steady and solid, molded by the authority of decades of international prestige. In her early twenties, Kidjo left Benin for Paris, evading a dictatorship with a stranglehold on the arts that would have forced her to become a government mouthpiece. She built a career making music addressing humanitarian issues and incorporating global sounds like salsa and art-rock, often illuminating their African roots. Her success in synthesizing genres and languages blazed a trail that Yemi Alade followed. For more than a decade, Alade has made polished Afropop, drawing from styles like Ghanaian highlife and Ivorian coupé-décalé, and performing in Swahili, French, Yoruba, Igbo, and English. The two artists share a relentless fascination with culture and a keen sense of justice.
“Dignity” is danceable, with a slick, percussive march and an air of gravity that makes it a fitting ode to the spirit of Nigeria’s #EndSARS movement. #EndSARS began last year as an effort to curb a police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, notorious for attacking young people, but grew to demand an end to bad governance more widely. Weeks of mass protest across the country were brought to a halt in late October, when a swath of protestors at a Lagos toll gate were fired upon by military forces (the Nigerian army has not taken responsibility for the casualties, but a CNN investigation and eyewitnesses provide a strong challenge to these claims). Alade alludes to the massacre in pidgin, while Kidjo urges steadfastness in English. “Many people think that police brutality only happens in America, but it’s everywhere,” Kidjo said of the song. The “Dignity” refrain “respect is reciprocal” is a simple but striking message. Dubious leaders everywhere could stand to take heed.
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