Image: Kravenworks Records
By David Krasnow and Michele Moses
When a young Amanda Petrusich, now a staff writer who covers music, first heard Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light,” she felt “almost like it was being beamed in from outer space.” The record, released in 1980, was strikingly original—a hybrid of experimental rock, Afrobeat, and seventies funk, reimagined by a white American rock band and their English producer. Nearly forty years later, the Beninese pop star Angélique Kidjo has chosen to release her own, track-by-track cover version of “Remain in Light,” working with the producer Jeff Bhasker, who is known for his collaborations with Kanye West and Beyoncé. Kidjo has figuratively brought the record back to Africa, with lyrics in Yoruba and Fon, languages of her native Benin. Nonetheless, she is skeptical of the idea of cultural appropriation, broadly defined. “Who are we to own any culture?” she asks. “Even our [own] culture doesn’t belong to us.” Petrusich spoke with Kidjo and with David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads, about the impulses behind both versions, and the large influence of Fela Kuti.