In the Nineties there were a host of female soul singers at the forefront of music – from Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott, to Angie Stone and India Arie. And while female singers are currently dominating today’s mainstream charts, neo-soul has become somewhat of a niche genre, and authentic soulful sounds are noticeably absent in contemporary commercial music. So when Erykah Badu flew into town for a one off gig at London’s Brixton Academy, it was a show not to be missed.
The 40-year-old songstress is notorious for turning up late to shows (at her last UK gig she was nearly two hours late), so it was a pleasant surprise when the veteran singer started her set slightly earlier than scheduled.
With her trademark heavy long hair tied in two plaits and rocking a full-size blanket-inspired poncho, Badu lives up to her unique style. As soon as she bursts into song – accompanied by a full ensemble – the mood at the south west London venue immediately lights up and a euphoric feeling is in the air. Badu’s vocals alone make the show; husky yet smooth, fierce but still subtle, floating from a resonant mid-range, then hitting high notes that seem near enough impossible to achieve, yet done with such ease.
Fans are treated to an array of songs, both new and old. Current album New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) exudes a slightly more modern feel, and hits such as “Out My Mind” and “Window Seat” are greeted with heavy applause. Badu is fully aware of the controversy that engulfed the latter; she stripped naked in public for the video, proclaiming: “Do I look like a fucking role model?” It’s this raw, unhinged persona that separates Badu from her peers.
Although the newer songs are received extremely well, it’s the singer’s earlier material that really gets the audience going. At this point the poncho has been removed, unveiling her flamboyant black glitter high-waist trousers, accompanied with a tucked in white shirt.
“London, shall we take it back to 1997?” she asks the crowd in her distinctive southern twang. Songs such as “On & On” and “Tyrone” garner rapturous applause and have concerts goers in a moment of nostalgia, and it’s at the this point that it’s drummed in that Erykah Badu is a rare gem and part of a dying breed of genuine soulful singers.
At times the show followed an irregular pattern with regards to pace and tempo, but all was forgotten as soon as the vocals kicked in. And many were left perplexed by the absence of fan favourites “Bag Lady” and “Next Lifetime”.
But with that said, her live show still leaves her competition in the shade. Badu’s stage presence is compelling and her charismatic aura is electric, yet calm. The two-hour-long show fused jazz, soul, and rhythm and blues with hints of electro and hip-hop, taking fans back to a time where authentic music stood tall in the mainstream charts. Very few musicians can rival her vocal ability and this iconic diva sure could teach some of today’s singers a thing a two.