The news and fallout of coronavirus has shifted everyone’s mind to basic needs and quite honestly, survival. Between the loss of our female presidential candidates and pandemic news, it felt to me as if Women’s History Month had been hijacked this year.
That is until singer-songwriter Erykah Badu’s quarantine concert series, “Apocalypse One” was announced.
Badu—also known by aliases Badulla Oblongata, Sara Bellum and SHE ILL—has always been musically innovative. However, she truly became an Analog Girl in a Digital World with the launch of this series. My expectations were building from the moment the initial teaser dropped on Instagram—especially since she’d be streaming the concert live from her bedroom in Dallas and would only charge an “entrance fee” of $1!
Always a feminist in my mind, Badu consistently integrates all parts of herself as an artist, mother and music professional. And now she would situate herself within that fourth wave by using technology to bring music to the people.
I’m currently teaching an undergraduate course this spring entitled: “Sisters Doin’ It for Themselves.” This course celebrates the women’s suffrage centennial by examining great women poets and prose writers from 1919 to present. Therefore, I’ve have been thinking about women’s contributions to society more than normal.
While Badu isn’t a literary icon, she is the music guru and female foundation for the neo-soul movement, which truly took off in America in the early 90’s.
Now here she is, over two decades later, paving the way with an innovative new digital series. And Badu’s online concert is the latest contemporary example of women exploring new territory and breaking boundaries.
The vibe itself was truly unique. And as a Badu concert attendee myself, I can tell you it felt even more special than normal. It was as intimate, warm and inviting as Badu herself.
The first concert in the series occurred on March 23 at 1am EST. Badu, donning a marigold sweatshirt and a maroon stocking hat—and occasionally sipping out of a red coffee mug—sang from her bed. Also providing ambiance was the gargantuan Yoko Ono poster behind her bed. And sometimes Badu took a break from singing to switch camera views or stoke the small keyboard perched on a green album crate.
Badu began the set with “World Keeps Turning.” The room was filled with Badu’s musical team and instruments. Three musicians and two back-up singers grooved, all of whom were masked. Badu named the musicians: Music Director RC Williams on keyboards, Brother B on Bass and Frank Mocha on drums/percussion.
The singer-songwriter performed classics from her first album Baduizm like “On and On” and “Other Side of the Game.” These were performed alongside newer tracks like “Master Teacher” and “Twinkle.”
But besides the tracks, what made this concert interesting was Badu’s use of surveying the audience to ascertain what they wanted sung next. A polling system would appear on the screen offering you two song selections; you could click and vote for one. Then the statistics would post and she would sing precisely what the audience chose. It helped that the programmers occasionally programmed funny questions such as, “Would you like to see the keyboard and bass players switch places and play each others’ instruments?”
In addition to the audience participating in the song selection, she talked frankly to us between tracks. As the concert continued into the wee hours of the morning, viewers (like me!) felt as if we were getting a peek behind the Badu curtain. She admitted that her nickname in high school used to be “Apples.” And she and her backup singers laughed while singing a traditional Baptist church song called “Jesus is On the Main Line.”
Finally, towards the end of the concert she shocked everyone by removing her wig. As a Black woman, I know how sacred hair is to me. Badu’s move showed vulnerability and a true commitment to her audience.
The series is over—Apocalypse Two and Three took place on April 5 and 19, respectively—but we will continue to watch its development, especially post-pandemic.
As Angela Davis recently said during an April 2 Rising Majority teach-in: “We should seize upon this as an opportunity to do the kind of organizing that is going to enhance our sense of belongingness to the world.”
Badu’s concert did just that. She sung for almost three hours straight to over 100,000 viewers—proving that artists could bring the music to the people without heavy ticket fees. Badu put fans first.
In an uncertain and anxiety-ridden world, Badu’s Quarantine Concert Series was a true beacon in a dark March.
The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving. During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.