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Dean's Lecture Series

By Gabriela Martínez

Angélique Kidjo, Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter and activist from Benin, visited the University of Maryland for the WORLDWISE: Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series to talk about her life story and the role of music in activism. 

As soon as she walked onstage and sat down for her live discussion with Sheri Parks, associate dean of University of Maryland’s College of Arts and Humanities, Angélique Kidjo looked at the audience and said “You are all so quiet. We’re talking about art, man.”

Using her own lively stories about her childhood in a village in Benin, Kidjo captured the audience and lightened the mood.  An inquisitive child—known affectionately in her village as “Where, what and how?”—Kidjo was privileged for having parents who greatly valued her intellectual development.

Kidjo’s mother, a skilled costume designer, created a theater in her community.  As a child, Kidjo would spend time climbing in and out of the animal costumes her mother made. One night, when her mother did not have enough actors between scenes, she made Kidjo go onstage.  Not knowing what to do, Kidjo decided to belt out a song.

It was after that moment that Kidjo decided that she wanted to spend her life onstage.

When asked what it feels like to be the queen of African music, Kidjo responded  “I don’t believe in kings or queens.”

She said her nature is to defy structures of power, which she did after deciding to leave Benin, having realized that the country’s communist regime was not going to foster her creativity and desire to grow intellectually. 

Escaping Benin was not easy, she said. At the time, citizens who wanted to leave the country needed to get authorization from the government. Kidjo, however, was lucky. Her brother’s friend, who was working as airport security at the time, let her board the plane while his supervisor was in the bathroom.

“I’ve never ran so fast in my life,” Kidjo said.

When Kidjo arrived in France, she experienced racism and cultural estrangement in French society, and at the educational institution she graduated from—the CIM Jazz School of Paris.

On her way to register at the school, Kidjo asked for directions from two students.

“Jazz is not for African people,” one of the students told her.

The head of the school, having overheard what the girls had said to Kidjo, told Kidjo that she could prove those students wrong. At the end of the school year, he introduced her to the person who produced her debut album “Parakou.”

Since then, Kidjo’s fame has skyrocketed. She won her first Grammy in 2008 for her album “Djin Djin” and was named one of the 40 most powerful celebrities in Africa by Forbes.

Kidjo also discussed her work with the Batonga Foundation for Girls in Africa, which aims to empower girls and young women in Africa through educational opportunities. Kidjo is currently working on a cellphone-based program that collects information about girls in different African villages and maps it out according to different locations.

The purpose of the program is to find out how girls are living, if they are in school, forcefully married, or going through other types of difficult living situations. Kidjo’s foundation will develop an educational approach for girls based on the needs of the community reflected through the data.

For Kidjo, the first step in creating humanitarian programs for Africa, is giving voices to people and finding out what are their genuine needs.

“I don’t believe anyone can make any change in Africa if the African people are not in the center of the change,” Kidjo said.  “If you don’t ask them what they need, how can you bring a program that makes any sense to people?”

After the discussion, Moses Namara ‘16, a computer science major originally from Uganda, asked Kidjo for advice on how to improve the education system in different African countries.

In response to Namara’s question, Kidjo advocated for the role of youth in a country’s social and educational development, at the same time warning against starting revolutions and “breaking a system” without a plan.

“The platform is there—use it wisely,” said Kidjo, who is optimistic about the power of the Internet, but also wary about its potential to isolate people.

 After graduating from the University of Maryland, Namara will return to Uganda to teach basic programming classes at different local universities, including the Kampala International University.

Toward the end of the program, students gathered around Kidjo to discuss issues of colonialism and social injustice in Africa.

“She is very engaging,” said Peace Gwam ‘17, an economics and history major. “I like that she really called us to action as young students.”

Soulyana Lakew ’17, an economics major originally from Ethiopia, is interested in the role of the western world in the development of Africa.

“It is so refreshing to meet people with integrity,” Lakew said. “A lot of the role models we are given in society are so corrupt. To find someone who is able to use their voice for good and who is true to their word is so inspiring.”

 

WHAT:

The WORLDWISE: Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series features a discussion between Angélique Kidjo and Sheri Parks, associate dean in the College of Arts and Humanities, in which Kidjo will talk about her life story, including her reasons for escaping Benin’s former leftist regime to pursue her dream of becoming an artist in Paris. She will also talk about what it means to be the “queen of African music” and her fervent activism around women and girls in Africa.

The discussion will also explore the idea of cultural rights in the lives of refugees, taking into account the United Nations’ recognition of culture as a human right.

Prior to the lecture, the  Arts and Humanities Center for Synergy led by Sheri Parks will host a ThinkAThon for Refugees: A Think and Do Day of Intellectual Activism, in which Yasmine Taeb from Friends’ National Committee for Legislation will brief participants on the ongoing refugee crises. Two representatives from the International Rescue Committee will provide briefings on the current refugee crisis in Baltimore, which is one of largest receiver cities of refugees in the Unites States.

The briefings will be followed by group discussions, in which participants will examine specific issues and think of solutions to alleviate the plight of refugees.

The event is co-sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of International Affairs.

Lunch will be provided. Participants should register, but walk-ins are welcome.

WHO:

Sheri Parks, Associate Dean for Research, Interdisciplinary Scholarship and Programming in the College of Arts and Humanities

Angelique Kidjo, singer-songwriter and activist from Benin, Africa

Growing up in Benin, Africa, Kidjo was influenced by the sounds and rhythms of Beninese traditional music, as well as jazz, pop, and salsa music. Through her dynamic collaborations with composers such as Philip Glass, Kidjo strives to combine African music with different musical styles.

Kidjo was named one of the 40 most powerful celebrities in Africa by Forbes and one of the 100 most inspiring women in the world by The Guardian. As the founder of the Batonga Foundation for Girls in Africa and is Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, Kidjo is dedicated to empowering the lives of African women.

WHEN:

5:30 - 7 p.m. (WORLDWISE: Arts and Humanities Dean’S Lecture Series)

9 a.m. - 2 p.m. (ThinkAThon for Refugees)

WHERE:

The ThinkAThon for Refugees will be held in the Charles Carroll Room at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, University of Maryland, College Park.

The WORLDWISE: Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture with Sheri Parks and Angélique Kidjo will take place in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall in The Clarice, University of Maryland, College Park. 

9/27/15

By Miranda Jackson, The Diamondback

Highly acclaimed Taiwanese choreographer and dancer Huang Yi came to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center with one seemingly crazy concept: a piece of choreography designed around a robot named KUKA.

Many years ago, when Yi was a child, his family underwent a drastic lifestyle change when his parents had to file for bankruptcy. As his artist statement reads: “My family of four moved from a luxurious house to a 40-square-foot room.”

The constant moving that he experienced put a lot of stress on his parents, so much so that they often attempted suicide. In order to relieve his parents of anymore potential stress, Yi detached himself from all his emotions, a very common defense mechanism among children. He became a perfect child, like a robot, with hardly any personality left at all.

Perhaps this is why he connected so well with the atmosphere of robotics. His favorite television program growing up was a cartoon called Doraemon, which Yi explains as a “Japanese animation character and a cat robot who is always there to solve problems for his owner.” Robots became a passion of his from a very young age, as he identified with their loyalty and selfless destiny.

As an adult, he decided that he wanted to combine two divergent concepts: the science of mechanical engineering and the art of dance, as he grew up with a passion for both. His show featured four members: himself, dancer Lin Jou-Wen, dancer Hu Chien and German robot KUKA. Yi didn’t build this robot; he simply programmed it after receiving it from the company, which was in itself an ordeal.

Read more here.

The University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities presents WORLDWISE Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series: In Conversation with Sheri Parks. This year’s Dean’s Lecture Series features Huang Yi, a dancer, choreographer, inventor and videographer from Taipei, Taiwan.

In an additional event on Sept. 24, ArtistTalk: Manipulating Data for Performance, Huang Yi will be interviewed by professor Satyandra K. Gupta, director of the Maryland Robotics Center in UMD's Institute for Systems Research.

WHO

Huang Yi’s work focuses on the relationship between humans and machines, and how they are becoming more interrelated. His dance performances integrate human and mechanical movements in a synchronized manner. According to Sozo Artists website, his work has received considerable praise at international arts festivals, including the Ars Electronica Festival (Austria), Joyce Theater, Engien-Les-Bain Centre des Arts (France), Nimbus Dance Works (Jersey City), Cloud Gate 2 (Taipei), the Indonesian Dance Festival (Jakarta), New York Live Arts and the American Dance Festival (North Carolina).

Sheri Parks is an associate professor at the Department of American studies and associate dean for Research, Interdisciplinary Scholarship and Programming at the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), which is dedicated to advancing interdisciplinary research and scholarship in the arts and humanities.

EVENT DETAILS

WORLDWISE Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series: In Conversation with Sheri Parks -5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Gildenhorn Recital Hall

For free tickets or more information, visit: go.umd.edu/HYi or call 301.405.ARTS.

Facebook event page here

ArtistTalk: Manipulating Data for Performance- 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24

The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Kogod Theatre

MEDIA

For more information about this event, please contact Nicky Everette, director of marketing and communications for the College of Arts and Humanities, at meve@umd.edu or 301-405-6714.

Media should RSVP to meve@umd.edu.

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