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African stars take the Sage

This weekend sees the climax of the annual L'Afrique - a Newcastle festival which, as the name suggests, is a celebration of African culture with a particular focus on the music of the continent.

This weekend sees the climax of the annual L'Afrique - a Newcastle festival which, as the name suggests, is a celebration of African culture with a particular focus on the music of the continent.

Two performers - Ivory Coast reggae star Alpha Blondy, and his support act, Congo's JB Mpiana - can be seen in the centre of Newcastle for free when they occupy the Grey's Monument pitch tomorrow lunchtime.

On Sunday night, the Sage Hall 1 welcomes arguably Africa's most recognisable female singer, Angelique Kidjo.

Born in Benin, tucked between Togo and Nigeria in west Africa, Kidjo was a member of her mother's theatre/dance troupe at the age of six.

She moved to Paris when she was in her early 20s, working first as a backing singer in local bands and then leading her own ensemble.

Influenced by the work of Miriam Makeba, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix and James Brown, as well as Togo's best-known singer, Bella Bellow, Angelique had become one of the most popular live acts in France by the end of the 80s.

She is fluent in four languages - English and French (of course) included - and her material ranges through Afropop, Brazilian, Caribbean, latin, jazz, gospel and soul.

She has performed and recorded with jazz stars like Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis and Cassandra Wilson, and mainstream acts such as Annie Lennox and Peter Gabriel. She recently performed in New York with blues icon Buddy Guy and Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid.

Kidjo was no stranger to the world of film, though. Her voice appears on a number of soundtracks, Ace Ventura being one of the better known ones.

Her live shows draw huge crowds in Africa and she has also played the New Orleans Jazz Fest and the Newport Jazz Festival, two of America's premier music showcases, this year.

Angelique also finds time to devote to UNICEF - the United Nations Children's Fund - and she has also worked for Oxfam and was at the forefront of the Roll Back Malaria campaign with Youssou N'Dour and others. She was also a part of last year's Live 8 extravaganza and her music has brought her three Grammy nominations and awards from MOBO (Music Of Black Origin).

She was recently named the Best African Female Singer in the internationally recognised Kora awards.

Kidjo's last album, Oyaya, was produced by the Los Lobos sax-man, Steve Berlin. Ticket info from The Sage on (0191) 443 4666.

Across in Hall 2 tomorrow is the Scottish folk duo Catriona McKay and Chris Stout on harp/fiddle, respectively. Support for the show comes from the Borders Young Fiddles.

THE all-star British Blues Quintet - featuring Maggie Bell, Zoot Money, Miller Anderson, Colin Allen and Colin Hodgkinson - will be at the Carling Academy in Westgate Road tonight. Ticket info on 0870 771 2000.

Tomorrow, Americana act the Rod Picott Band will be at the Buddle Arts Centre in Wallsend. Picott, originally from South Berwick, Maine, is now based in Nashville. He has produced, co-written with and provided songs for Slaid Cleaves, who he has known since school days, and made his name opening for major acts like Alison Krauss & Union Station and Gillian Welch/David Rawlings.

The Buddle box office number is (0191) 200 7132.

NEXT Thursday, singer Niamh Parsons and Ennis-born guitarist Graham Dunne are at the Tyneside Irish Centre in Gallowgate.

The Irish duo have worked together for the best part of 10 years but Niamh started out in Belfast band Loose Connections, with whom she recorded and toured.

She has often been compared to singers like Dolores Keane, June Tabor and, inevitably, Sandy Denny.

Albums like Blackbirds & Thrushes (1999), In My Prime (2000) and Heart's Desire (2002) cemented her reputation as a front-rank interpreter of traditional songs. The duo have recently released Live At Fylde and The Old Simplicity CDs. Tickets from (0191) 261 0384.

TWO days later, on Saturday September 30, there is a chance to catch two local lads doing their bit for a particularly worthy cause. Morpeth-born slide guitarist/songwriter Johnny Dickinson plays the Sage's Hall 2 with support from Teesside songwriter Nat Hardwick to raise money for Leukaemia Research. Ticket info from (0191) 443 4661.

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