Angelique Kidjo

November 21, 2010

 I had a surreal experience a few weeks ago; I was in a room with so many African American celebrities all at the same time. I am talking about a ton of these people.   Some of them people were people you may have always wanted to be close to or ask questions of or would simply just want to scream your head off when you saw them; Black people on tv, and in movies, and who sing. 

Out of this sea of many people of whom I could to approach, I chose Angelique Kidjo.  Probably for two reasons: 1) she seemed approachable, and 2) her music has meant a great deal in my life.

When I approached her just to say that her music has meant a lot to me, she gave me a hug and started talking to me like we were old friends.  An unbelievable experience for me.

There is something about Angelique’s music that is soothing and spiritual.  She sings in many languages, but tends to transcend them all.  She is a unifying priestess with her music. 

Last week I caught her show at Carnegie Hall.  She brought together African descended people from throughout the diaspora to show the path of the drum from Africa throughout the world, and the power it has had for not just African diasporans but for the entire world.   Her guests included Diane Reeves and Yousou N’Dour.  A wonderful event.  I think the drum (and music, really) lives inside of us and we have carried the drum around the world in this way. 

I saw her this morning on Nickelodeon, Jr.  She is everywhere.

And how timely since I have talked recently here about the connection between the drum and IQ (See:  and .

If you do not know Angelique, get to know her.  In a world full of  studio-manipulated bad singing she has a power that will grab you and keep your attention. She will put you in touch with the music inside of you.


There was an entire body of work at the early part of the last century devoted to the fact that people of color, including Blacks, were of low intelligence because they scored lower on Euro-American tests of intelligence.  Lewis Terman, who was an enormous figure in IQ (Intelligence Quotient) testing in an influential book The Measurement of Intelligence, states:  a low level of intelligence was “very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families in the Southwest and also among Negroes.  Their dullness seems to be racial…” (Terman, 1916).  The tests themselves were developed with European values about how to measure intelligence at their core.  Creativity was100%  absent from the formulation.  The data were often collected on middle class whites which contrasted them with impoverished people of color. 

Another popular book related to this subject, The Study of American Intelligence (1923) by Carl Brigham when reviewing data on IQ tests administered to Army personnel concluded that they proved the superiority of the “Nordic” type over the “Alpine, mediterranean and Negro groups”.  Brigham later recanted these claims in the Psychological Review (1930) journal, but many people remained unaware of his recantation.

The perspective that people of color were of lower intelligence so infiltrated American thinking that we are still contending with ths today, as it has been argued again and again that programs such as Head Start are a waste of tax money because they do not improve performance. The argument is basically many people of color will never learn at the same rate as Caucasians so stop trying to help them. We continue to use tests derived from Terman’s original battery as a measure of intelligence even though it is biased.

So, what is intelligence?  Within the field of psychology there is no consensus about this. (Yet we continue to label these tests as tests of IQ.)  I often describe intelligence as the capacity to A) think and to B) use that capacity to function the best way you are able in your life.  Current IQ measures do address the first part (A) but are very limited even with that.  They do not address the second part (B) at all. 

During an intelligence test, you may be asked to complete puzzle-like tasks and demonstrate that your memory is good and that you can concentrate.  However, IQ tests continue to fall short now in terms of a heavy focus on material that you have already learned.   That is a biased approach to intelligence in and of itself as some children simply do not have the same resources or value the same things as some counterparts.  I will argue that the child with the different resources may still have a very rich experience, just not one in line with mainstrean values.  This does not in any way make them less intelligent than those counterparts.

I have noticed that these tests (there are several kinds)  are evolving into more neuropsychological instruments, which tap into brain function, but they have not evolved enough if  are “fund of information” and “vocabulary” which are no doubt influenced by environment, as part of the quotient, which they continue to be.

What IQ Tests Do and Don’t Do

IQ tests are useful in that they provide some prediction about how a child will perform in a mainstream Euro-American environment, because the values of the test are consistent with mainstream values.

They give some information about memory and concentration, as I mentioned above which may be useful for understanding how a child thinks or what areas are strengths and which are weaknesses in the context of Euro-American functioning. 

They by no means reflect “Intelligence” for all people in all contexts. 

Much of the historical data can be found in:  Thomas, M. D. Sillen, S. (1991).  Racism and Psychiatry.  Carol Publishing Group Edition.

Brigham, C. C. (1923).  A study of American intelligence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

***Coming Soon:  What to do if the School Tells you your kid needs to be tested for IQ.