Erykah Badu

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Erykah Badu


“If I could, I’d do every song I’ve ever written in the live show, but there’s just not time,” she says with a gentle laugh. “My band and I have been performing together for a really long time, long enough that they know everything, so we’re able to have a lot of versatility in the show. Things can just flow.


“The energy is always different, the atmosphere is different, and so we always create the show in the moment. Playing a live show is the opposite of recording. Playing live is about creating a moment; recording is about perfecting a moment. You have to make everything perfect when you record, but playing live is more about taking chances.”


Years of touring have taught Badu that different places in the world have different needs, and her show each night is a response to an intangible something in the air. “When we’re in America, in a place like Denver, the air and the water there are really clean, so everybody’s going to be relaxed and having a good time,” she explains. “When I’m performing in a place like Detroit or Baltimore, though, it’s a different show. The water is not as clean there. Those cities are plagued with a lot of crime, and even if you’re living a decent life there, you feel the vibrations of those who aren’t.” She can’t perform the same set in both places. “I’m kind of mutable, you might say – I feel what’s going on in each place, I watch how people behave, and I change my show to fit in with that. The most important thing to me is that I connect with the audience.”


Given that Badu will soon return to Australia, I ask about her experiences with crowds in this part of the world, and how her shows here generally go down. “I’m not saying this just because I’m coming to Australia,” she replies, “but I really love it down there. The air there is clean, the people are beautiful, and it feels very, very good to play there.”


In fact, Badu’s last trip to Australia was the source of one of her most cherished memories. “I felt so good the last time I was there,” she says. “I had a set of turntables in my hotel room, I had the windows open and all of my favourite tunes, and I was just watching people walk on the street below me while I played songs. When I want to picture a time that I felt really great, I close my eyes and think back to the time I spent in Australia. I felt very free.”


In a recent feature for Interview magazine, Badu spoke to young gun Kendrick Lamar, and one of her first questions was about what he hopes he will achieve in his career. It was an interesting question to pose to the new kid, and I wonder, if someone had asked Badu the same thing at the beginning of her career, when her Baduizm album was just coming out, what would she have told them?


The singer, who has been in the game for nearly two decades at this point, takes a moment to reflect on this. “If someone had asked me that when my first album was coming out, I’d have told them that I would like to gather a collection of autobiographical memories to give my children,” she says simply. “That would be my aim, so they might listen to my words and think on me, and then one day feel compelled to create something for their children.”