Queen of Sheba is the new album from Ibrahim Maalouf & Angélique Kidjo. This 7-part suite fuses Middle Eastern and African Cultures inspired by the mythic tale of the African Queen. Out on 24th June.
With sixteen albums to her name, five-time Grammy Award winner and “Africa’s premier diva”, Angélique Kidjo is a name that many will know. Whether through her music or her high-profile human rights work, such as campaigning for women’s rights in Africa, she’s not a name you forget. A glance through the many top lists she appears in, and you’ll begin to see a trend: most influential, iconic, inspiring. In short, she’s a mover and a shaker and incredibly creative, as she proved by recently making her first foray into musical theatre with Yemandja. Billed as a West African fairytale which unravels like a Greek Tragedy, Yemandja explores the West African history of the slave trade, tackling themes of love, betrayal, honour, free will and the horrors and injustices of slavery.
Beirut-born French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf was hailed by The New York Times as a “virtuoso” trumpet player who grew up surrounded by music. His mother was a pianist, and his father played trumpet. He once revealed that, like Don Ellis, his father also invented a quarter-tone trumpet so that he could play Arabic music. He plays his own quarter tone today, which helps to bridge his Arabic and western musical influences. It’s a very versatile instrument, and its lyrical qualities shine through on Queen of Sheba.
Although Maalouf pursued classical trumpet studies at the Paris National Music Conservatoire from the age of 17 for five years, his love for other musical forms soon set his heart adrift, a diverse force that still shapes his music today. While his music is often given focus through the jazz world, his influences are broader. I love the middle-eastern sounds he brings to his music; his playing is both adventurous and vibrantly exquisite as he proved so elegantly on Daniel Garcia Trio’s recent Via de la Plata (2021).
That same vibrancy and thirst for exploration can be heard on Queen of Sheba, described as a soaring 7-part suite; it was inspired by, and reinvents, the myth of Queen Sheba, an African Queen who heard about the reputation of King Salomon and travelled to Jerusalem to witness the king’s wisdom. It’s an ancient story that’s appeared in the Bible, the Quran, the Talmud and Ethiopian literature, among countless other films and writings.
For Queen Of Sheba, composing and scoring was left entirely to Maalouf, who has created a broad palette of sound through the addition of strings, horns, drums, percussion, guitar, bass and electric piano. Kidjo worked on the lyrics, which are sung in Yoruba, casting this mythic tale in a modern light.
This album has been a long time coming as, according to the album press notes, the idea for a project that would blend their respective music and culture came together when Maalouf and Kidjo first met, in New York City, in 2018.