We know Erykah Badu for her killer voice, her soulful blending together of funk, jazz, hip hop and R&B, her unique vogue (who could forget those head wraps?), and her naturally theatric mannerisms. Badu, ever a bundle of musical energy, put all of these qualities together Sunday night when she performed an exquisite set for the crowd at Level nightclub in South Beach.
With a lit stick of incense held in her teeth, the singer made her way onto the stage sporting a spectacular Afro wig (with a pick in it of course), sequined boots, and a denim artist’s apron. Then after settling comfortably between her drum machine and turntable, she proceeded to seduce the entire club and everyone in it with the kind of performance concertgoers long for.
She played two plus hours of music, including staples like “On & On” from her critically acclaimed first album, Baduism, and “Didn’t Cha Know” from her second, equally lauded album Mama’s Gun. Songs, reflections, drum beats, and dancing all melded beautifully together.
Part way through the show Badu suddenly tore off her Afro wig, uncovering her short, natural, twisted hair, singing the line, “This is how I look without makeup.” This segued into the song “Cleva.” Her songs broke into spoken word, fell under spells of percussion, and returned to song. Badu, always one to speak her mind, reserved time to ardently oppose war with Iraq, and voiced support for fellow artists and musicians -dubbing the concert the “Struggling Artists Tour.”
The audience was treated to a special appearance by soul legend Betty Wright, who accompanied Badu for the song called “A.D. 2000,” which pays homage to Amadou Diallou, who was shot dead by police in New York. Badu also revealed a new song from her eagerly anticipated third album, which is rumored to be near completion.
Recently, Erykah has earned kudos for a collaboration with eclectic hip hop artist Common on “Love of My Life (an ode to Hip Hop),” a hit track featured on the Brown Sugar soundtrack. Turntable by her side, Badu playfully spun tunes by artists like the Beastie Boys, NWA, Biggie Smalls and A Tribe Called Quest. She left the turntable and started rapping on her own, dabbling in a medley of classic hip hop songs including “Rapper’s Delight.” After one last song, she exited the stage.
During the encore, the audience clapped for her and chanted her name until she came back to the microphone for one last time, to croon “Bag Lady.” Glowing with energy, she danced, shooped, leapt into the air, and stood on her hands. She jumped off the stage and crowd surfed. All eyes were glued to her, this woman whose every move and every word emanated grace, authenticity and funkiness.
Liz Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.