All hail Erykah Badu; the Queen of Neo-Soul

(Kui Gitei) When you think of Erykah Badu (born Erica Abi Wright) you think towering, colourful head wraps, you think burning incense, you think of long braids sweeping to the floor, but most importantly, you think deep, beautiful, soulful music. She is a mother, an actress, a model, a human rights activist and an incomparable artist.

Badu, whose music incorporates elements of jazz, r n’ b and hip hop, has always known how to make a stand. When in her teens, she changed the spelling of her name, believing Erica to be her slave name. The suffix ‘kah’ means inner self, while her last name Badu is an African name for the 10th born child used for the Akan people in Ghana.

Her musical journey started while in college where she was studying theatre. She left before graduation, went on tour with her cousin and recorded her demo Country Cousins. The demo attracted enough attention to secure a duet with D’Angelo called Your Precious Love, and soon enough she landed a record deal with Universal Records.

Badu’s debut album Baduizm was released in 1997.The critics raved about her throwback soulful sounds, ala Curtis Mayfield and Billie Holiday. The lyrics were emotionally charged, heavy on social commentary, with a groovy background beat. Baduizm and its popular lead single, On & On, cemented her place in the industry, led to commercial success, and popularized the neo-soul genre.

In the 1998 Grammy Awards, Baduizm won for Best R n’ B album and On &On won Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Her next album was released in November of the same year, called Live. It was her first live album, best known for the anthem Tyrone.

Mama’s Gun was released in 2000 (featuring Bag Lady, Cleva and Didn’t Cha Know), followed by Worldwide Underground in 2003, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) and New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) in 2010. In all, Badu has sold over seven million albums and won 16 awards from 57 nominations, including four Grammys.

Badu is the only female member of the Soulquarians, a musical collective of neo-soul and hip hop members that comprises of Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def, James Poyser, Questlove, D’Angelo, Q-Tip, J Dilla and Bilal. She released a collection of her greatest hits, Icon, in 2010.

Her most recent album had the controversial song Window Seat as its lead single. The controversy sprang from the video, in which Badu strips naked on a busy street. She was fined for indecent exposure but maintains that she has no regrets, as it was a ‘protest against group think.’

Badu has also established herself as an actress, having appeared in several films, including Blues Brothers 2000 and The Cider House Rules, proving that there is certainly more to her than just the music. She is also the face of Tom Ford’s White Patchouli fragrance, a professed vegan, and Outkast’s hit song Ms. Jackson was written about her by Andre 3000. There seems to be no stopping the mother of three, who recently took up mid-wifing as a part time profession.

This is one artist who will never stop surprising us, musically, or otherwise. Catch this prolific artist when she headlines The Tusker Lite Experience in Nairobi on December 11th.

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