To don the doek, or not? This is the conundrum I faced before meeting Erykah Badu. What, after-all does a woman who wears a doek, wear to interview a woman whose headgear captured the world’s imagination nearly to the detriment of appreciating her art?
Her 1997 debut album Baduizm catapulted Erykah Badu from obscurity to platinum. Her music resonated universally among conscious people wanting to hear real music, real instruments, played by real people. ‘Sistahs’ around the globe cheered to see a sister with skills getting mainstream approbation for her talent. Baduizm was a massive commercial success, exceptional because of the level of artistic control Badu exercised over every aspect of her artistic product. It went platinum just months after its release.
A live album followed, that included the track Tyrone that blasted Badu back into the stratosphere and gave millions of women a melodic and effective way of getting rid of freeloading dead weight brothas. It was proceeded by a second, Mama’s Gun – another blast of freewheeling creativity, and Badu-isms. Equally difficult to define, it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this artist is no one-canvass wonder.
It’s unusual for a young artist to be given as much artistic freedom as you were on Baduizm. Were you given that freedom, or did you have to fight for it?
It’s unusual for a new artist who does not write, but if you’re a writer you have a vision. So for artists, who also write, it’s not unusual. [In the music business] you have artists, and self-contained artists. Self-contained artists are artists who are left alone in the studio, like a painter, and left to be.
When did you first start wearing doeks?
You mean head-wraps? When I was a little kid. Growing up in south Dallas, we used to have Harambee festivals ever year. So there was this big festival where everyone gathers in the park, and there was a community of people who shared a love of [African] culture, and express it everyday.
At the Kyalami concert you said something about change?
I said: ”If you fear change, you shouldn’a came.”
Why did you say this, and what changes have you gone through recently?
I’m always changing my hair, or something. That’s why I said it, because I heard through the gravevine that sisters are somehow disappointed ‘cos I cut my locks, or I shaved my head, or I didn’t wear my hair wrap to the left, or to the right. So that’s why I said it. ‘Cos my show is about that. It grows and changes with every audience, and every audience is different, and I’m different all the time. Every day. New.
I find that women often get judged by what on top of their heads, then by what’s inside it. Do you find that to be true?
Until you know them. So as women we use our beauty as much as we can, because that’s magnetic, and it’s what people are attracted to that. But we know that its not between your legs, its between your ears. So, it’s important to keep the communication going, and playing dumb is a part of intelligence too. I agree with you. I read somewhere: ”I would rather see a man with a processed head and a natural mind, than a man with a natural head and a processed mind.” So even though the head wrap means a great deal, the power is in the brain.
Why didn’t you do ‘Tyrone’?
No time, just out of time. I would’ve done everything I know. You’ve got to leave some kind of controversy to talk about, you know. But hey, next time, maybe. I have a lot of material and I didn’t know how much I had until I was given a time limit. I change my show all the time to keep me and the band interested in what we’re doing, and even with that, we’ll change when we get to the place, depending on where the people are. Next time I have to have something for [those who were disappointed] and they’ll really love it.