Angélique Kidjo & Ibrahim Maalouf Connect Timeless Messages in ‘Queen of Sheba’

The iconic collaborators discuss their Best Global Music-nominated album ahead of the Grammy Awards and reveal lessons from their long years of music-making.

Almost a decade ago, Angélique Kidjo was present at a New York concert hosted by Ibrahim Maalouf. She’d gone there as a fan but left a prospective collaborator, after they mutually agreed to explore ideas. Emerging from countries with distinct storytelling traditions—the Republic of Benin and Lebanon respectively—a strong narrative was the gold standard they held themselves to. “I wanted to find out what was the link between Africa and the Middle East,” Angélique revealed in a recent conversation with OkayAfrica. “So we said we’ll meet again when we find the idea. I did some research and I came up with the riddles of Queen of Sheba to King Solomon and Ibrahim said, ‘oh yeah, that’s a great idea’.

From that initial premise, and during a recording process that would take the next seven years, the duo’s Queen of Sheba was finally released in 2022. As expected of an alliance between two virtuosos, the album is a product of love and intentionality. While the lyrical direction was provided by Angélique, its robust interpretation of a symphony orchestra was the idea of Ibrahim, whose richly layered trumpeting has recreated the conventions of Jazz. “We wanted to make it sound timeless,” says Ibrahim, explaining the album’s fusion of different instrumentation. “It could be made anytime [and not] belong to any specific period of time. I started like this conceptually, and then Angélique sent me the lyrics. I asked her to send recordings of her reading them and I started composing the music based on the way she was saying them.”

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Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images

A TV Show About Ethiopia's Queen Sheba is in the Works

During a presentation on at the Sundance Film Festival, Onyx Collective announced that a Queen Of Sheba drama is in the works.

Onyx Collective, which exclusively produces content for Hulu, announced that a scripted one hour series centered around Queen of Sheba is underway. Onyx focuses on highlighting the stories of people in underrepresented communities, and the upcoming series, called Sheba, will fall under that umbrella.

Inspired by a true story, Sheba will be a drama that highlights the story of Africa's most well-known queen and her quest to unite Ethiopia and fortify it as one of the most economically robust nations in the world. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the series will highlight Makeda as she sojourns into a world of danger, marred with many twists and turns. Although Ryan Coogler—who has directed both of the Black Panther movies—is the executive producer for the drama, Chantelle Well, who is a writer on Yellowjackets, and Azie Tesfai, known for her role in Supergirl, will be involved in the creation of the film's roll out. (Tesfai is already the first Ethiopian person to portray a comic superhero.) In addition to working on Sheba, Tesfai is also working on The Chase for NBC. Onyx Collective, which debuted in 2021, is a Disney brand with a body of work that includes The Hair Tales, Reasonable Doubt, The Plot, and Unprisoned.

Although Wells will write the script for Sheba, it is unclear if Tesfai will also appear on-screen in addition to being an executive producer.

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