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Angelique Kidjo ‘built bridges’ thanks to fellow Polar winner and label founder

Angelique Kidjo said fellow winner of the prestigious Polar Music Prize 2023 and Island Records label founder Chris Blackwell allowed her to “build these bridges between all the beautiful music and peoples of the world”.

The five-time Grammy Award winning Beninese artist and songwriter – who had her songs featured in the historical film The Woman King – was honoured at a ceremony in The Grand Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden on Tuesday alongside Blackwell and composer Arvo Part.

They were each presented with the gong – which has been dubbed the “Nobel Prize of music” and celebrates the three laureates for their significant achievements in music –  by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

The trio receive prize money of 600,000 Swedish Kroner (£47,681).

On her win, Kidjo said her life “was changed overnight” when Blackwell, known for finding talent around the world, signed her to Island Records in the 1980s.

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She added: “I had sent my music to every record company in Paris. No-one was interested, no one cared.

“Then the African activist (and Senegalese music producer) Mamadou Konte sent it to someone in Jamaica who showed true passion for my work, signed me right away and started me down the path to success.

“This person was Chris Blackwell. He has allowed me to build these bridges between all the beautiful music and peoples of the world, so that we can celebrate our common humanity.”

The 62-year-old musician, known for songs such as Wombo Lombo, also said when her mother first put her on stage at the age of six, she was “so scared” until the audience’s reaction made her “feel at home”.

Polar Music Prize
Polar Music Prize winners Angelique Kidjo, Arvo Part and Chris Blackwell (right) during a ceremony in The Grand Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden (Annika Berglund/Polar Music Prize/PA)

On receiving the award, Blackwell said: “There is nothing easy about the act of creating music… There is only one question – what is more important?  To be heard, or to hear?

“When you listen to others, you find the space to understand their many possibilities. It allows you to bring forth what is already there.”

The 85-year-old British record producer, whose label has signed Bob Marley, U2 and The Killers, added: “My hope is that we all continue to make music, to use music as a shared human endeavour that evokes joy and delight, and connects communities and generations together in a language of harmony.

“That, I hope, is my legacy. With all those I have worked with, over the last 50 years.”

Meanwhile, Part’s son collected his award saying his 87-year-old father – who was composer of the year at the 2011 Classic Brit Awards – has “heartfelt gratitude” to the award committee along with listeners and fellow musicians.

Michael Part added: “Arvo sends his love to all of you here tonight.

“My father’s music is a reminder of our common humanity, of the things that unite us rather than divide us. It is a call to love, to empathy, and to understanding.”

Sweden Polar Prize
Chris Blackwell gives a speech (Christine Olsson/TT via AP)

In attendance at the ceremony was Yusuf/Cat Stevens and Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, who had signed to Island Records during the 1970s.

The prize, founded in 1989 by the late Abba manager Stig Anderson, usually celebrates one contemporary and one classical laureate, however, this is third time in the prize’s history that three laureates have won.

Previously, this occurred for Burt Bacharach, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Robert Moog’s win in 2001 and in 2019 with Grandmaster Flash, Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Playing For Change Foundation.

The prize has been previously awarded to Iggy Pop, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Chuck Berry, Ennio Morricone, Bjork, Led Zeppelin, Patti Smith, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Sir Elton John and Metallica.

The 2023 event – which featured renditions of covered U2’s With Or Without You, Kidjo’s Agolo and Roxy Music’s Love Is The Drug – was broadcast live on Swedish national television and can be viewed globally via YouTube.