Badu brings peace and light

2014-03-30 14:00

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It turns out the US soul sensation, here for the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, is happy to talk.

At 6am, while the Mother City is still mostly asleep, Cape Town International Airport feels ghostly and empty.

But there’s a palpable sense of expectation in the arrivals terminal: Erykah Badu is on her way.

The American soul sensation is due to land soon, just hours ahead of her headline performance at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

A journalistic trade-off with a well-placed source has yielded the singer’s flight details.

So, apart from myself and my photographer colleague, there’s one other freelance newshound there with a camera.

Entourage in tow, Badu emerges with a spring in her step wearing a blue hoodie that reads: “Badu in Africa, 2014 AD.”

The hood is covering her head and it is topped with a black ranger’s hat similar to the one worn by rapper Pharrell Williams.

Her tattered camo shorts are sagging and loose, like her laceless black sneakers.

When she notices the camera, she becomes visibly nervous.

The 43-year-old has apparently asked for there to be no press in attendance and the jazz festival’s organisers have said she might not give any interviews or even hold a press conference.

In the end, it’s social media that bridges the divide.

I belt out: “Hello, Fat Belly Bella,” the name she uses for her Twitter handle, and she beams an approving smile as airport staff direct the group to a specially opened side exit.

We follow her and it turns out the famously reclusive superstar is happy to talk.

We snap a few selfies and I throw some questions out.

“You can expect peace and light to guide the show,” she says. “I believe in letting the spirit of man evoke whatever comes out.”

I press for details as she takes a drag on an electronic cigarette.

“We will start with known tracks like On and On [her breakthrough 1997 hit], then move according to however people feel.”

She says her band usually rehearses her entire catalogue – that’s six albums over a career spanning 17 years.

“There’s going to be a lot of experimenting, too,” she says.

The same approach to her performance produced classic tracks like Tyrone, which was created on stage and went on to receive a best female R&B vocal performance at the 1999 Grammys.

The organisers indicate it’s time to leave and Badu says she’s curious to see how Cape Town has changed.

Badu first visited the Mother City in 2003, when the festival was still called the North Sea Jazz Festival because of its association with the festival in the Netherlands.

Before she jumps into the van, she smiles, leans over and says: “Yo, please don’t publish the picture of me smoking this thing. I don’t mind if the fans see it, but my mama would kill me.”

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