By using music as a universal language, soul queen Erykah Badu believes she can deliver powerful messages to disciples of all ages
As eccentric artists go, they don’t come more out there than Erykah Badu. The queen of neosoul, a label stamped on her after she dropped the multiplatinum debut album Baduizm in 1997, has done some crazy stuff.
She has stripped for a guerilla music video while walking down the street where President John Kennedy was shot and live tweeted the birth of her daughter.
Yet Badu remains a musical force to be reckoned with, selling out shows all over the world – and an artist courted by the fashion world.
In 2008, her good friend Tom Ford enlisted her to promote one of his fragrances and now she is the face of Givenchy, which is being revamped by Italian designer Riccardo Tisci.
“That is awesome,” she says in her drawl. “These are the little surprises in life because I never thought I would be 42 and asked to be the face of Givenchy.”
Badu has been enjoying yet another creative rebirth courtesy of her collaborations with her obvious successor, Janelle Monae.
Their work together, most notably on the song Q.U.E.E.N. on Monae’s album The Electric Lady, stirred the fascination of a younger fan base who missed the neo-soul movement the first time around when it was spearheaded by Badu, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo and Maxwell in the late 1990s.
“I am always curious about the growth of a fan base, especially now as it is 17 years since Baduizm,” she says. “You speak to a generation when they feel the music – and they seem to feel it like I felt what my mother listened to. It tickles me to see that happen in my lifetime, it warms my heart to see children at the shows.”
Those “kids” are bumping up against the “hardcore Badu fans” who have maintained their faith through her five records, which include the last two, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) and the 2010 follow-up New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh).
“The hardcore fans are a great tribe, they are the reason I do what I do. They relate to me no matter how many clothes I got on,” she says, laughing. “Or what the message is.”
And then there are her fans outside of America’s soul headquarters, who she calls her “indigo children”.
Badu talks in terms of music being an energy, of resonating with frequencies which transcend all languages.
Attuning to those energies is how Badu constructs her live performances, as her Australian fans will discover when she arrives for Bluesfest this weekend and some side shows. Erykah Badu plays Bluesfest, Byron Bay on Sunday.