Arriving on stage to the sound of Lil Wayne’s ‘A Milli’ and her band’s warm-up soul jam, Erykah Badu is fitted in a billowing black dress and a bouffant head-wrap. Her band is 10 strong with keyboards, guitar, percussion, drums, DJ, flute and backing singers in the mix. Erykah herself performs alongside djembe and a sampler which she frequently plays throughout the set. Turns out she’s a great musician as well as an amazing singer. Yes, State has a serious case of Baduizm. Andre 3000 & Common, we understand. It turns out we’re not the only one, as the packed Vicar St makes a lot of noise during the night. Especially the woman beside State who emitted piercing shrieks of delight as if she was on a rollercoaster for the performance.
Her band are outstanding and Badu’s voice is supple, mature and LOUD. But never in a unnecessary diva-type way. Much of the material was taken from her excellent, excellent recent album New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), a hip-hop tinged album with Badu’s neo-soul and R&B roots at its core. It features production from 9th Wonder, Madlib and Karriem Riggins – all very much hip-hop producers. That edge lend the songs a vitalisation effect and the result is that there is very little material played that could be consider R&B standards.
With the recent Amy Winehouse Glasto shambles fresh in the memory, Badu shows herself to be the antithesis of that. She performs, entertains, sings beautifully, dances gracefully and raps. She is a progressive artist. A clear synthesis of her African roots and her American upbringing demonstrated by a short rendition of an African Highlife number and her vernacular in-between songs.
In fact, the interludes themselves are fascinating taking in Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Black Ghost Blues”, hip-hop, spoken word and African rhythms. Badu explains how a documentary which looks at politics, people and democracy called The Forth World War inspired the album title. Responding to the crowd’s boos that the show has come to an end, she exclaims “We knew it couldn’t last forever!”. Upon catching what she just said, she mimicks the famous line from Outkast’s ‘Ms. Jackson’ (“Forever? Forever ever? Forever ever?“) which is a song written about Erykah’s mother. That’s a mini-vortex right there.
She explains why her tour is called The Vortex . According to Badu, it is so-called because a vortex is a “swirling cloud of energy that draws everything around it, into it.” She’s obviously very self-aware as tonight, Badu is that vortex, that beam of light permeating the building, all eyes transfixed on an masterclass of a performance from an artist at the top of her game for two solid hours.
Photo by Flickr user Tommygmob.