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All We Are Is All We Got: Erykah Badu and A New Breed of Healers

I’m going to be myself, Erykah.

I guess there’s a part of me that’s also an analog girl in a digital world even though I’m touching technology all the time. I still didn’t know craigslisters could transfer their Live Nation tickets to another person, so I wasn’t sure if this dude was going to scam me. He didn’t sound too ‘scammy’ so I just told him: “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

I’m reading about different types of power. Tribal power often has rapture, grace and comfort. It’s where we come from. I know you know that, Sara Bellum. It’s hopefully a nuclear family that taught us right from wrong, how to survive and how to think. But sometimes you have to leave the tribe to find yourself.  Sometimes you pay a price for leaving.  Along the way, maybe you find a new tribe. Maybe you don’t belong to any tribe for a while. That’s cool, too.

I’m not like everybody else, Annie. I never was. In high school, I weaved in an out of different scenes like a freaked-out pariah. I had been bullied senselessly my entire life. I hung with the heads (insert drugs here), theater geeks, goth punks, metal-heads, the animal right’s club, Honor’s society– pick a group, I hung with them for a little while and moved on. To the silent horror of many a cheerleader, I went to prom with my best friend (a girl) and we chuckled while we had our silly portraits taken in ridiculous, teal taffeta and white lace. We knew all this shit was finite and kind of a joke. Still, I always felt like I was on the periphery, except for the curious writing bug instilled in by Ms. Bartlett, my 10th grade English teacher who would religiously hand me my journal before class. She loved what I wrote. I had a lot of stuff to say on paper that was too dangerous to vocalize in high school. I think sometimes you’re not aware of a gift until someone points it out to you, you know whatta I mean, Maria Mexico?

Some say us outsiders suffer from some sort of inability to settle into a particular group, I say this is the direct result of no longer giving a F*CK. I fought my whole life to fit in, but I’ve come to see that some of the most important voices echo from the speaker boxes in the peripheries.

I first came into your album ‘Baduizm’ in 1997 through a friend. “Who is THIS?” I thought–proud, revolutionary, jazz songstress with your hair-wrapped, bearing an Ankh ring the size of Texas and a voice like Billie Holiday that could cut through whatever pain you had and whatever soul you lacked.  You were there to give it to us if we were ready to receive. When the video for “On And On” came on heavy rotation on MTV,  there were comments, but I paid no mind. You were talking about some real-life, heavy-duty shit: integrity against the backdrop of everyday grind. You’re an enigma too. I get it. Not everyone understands you.

Sunday night’s experience was nothing shy of spiritual ground-shake. Crowd-surfing, Mama of three, Afro-Punk – YOU SHUT IT DOWN. The first time I saw you, you were pregnant with Puma writhing around on the stage in yoga sutras and somersaulting sideways. I had to pick my jaw up off the ground at the end of the night. The second time was with a fellow, space mutant Janelle Monáe. You had on a ‘Mars’ tee-shirt. She had recently been born. Once again, I was blown away.

But last night, your message to the artists left me in tears. You asked: “How many artists in the house? […] Your only job is to be honest, so be honest and you got it locked.” At one point you said: “Don’t follow the rules.” As I watched you perform, I realized this wasn’t ragtime — you got there by NOT following the rules. Your message has always been clear: never-compromise, be tough, but not mean. Be humble, but not a sucker. Most of all, be yourself.

The highlight of the night was the reggae version of “Bag Lady.” You left no stone unturned and I know you would have played all night if the venue allowed it. We were all feeding off each other’s energy, arms in the air, word for word, going crazy in the church of Baduizm. I looked over and all of a sudden, you’ve got your arm hoisted firmly against a stranger’s arm, fingers interlocked and you go for it, surfing the crowd, singing, laughing, floating through like a bumblebee only to come up wigless and hatless. Still crooning, you quickly wrapped your pony-tail into a bun and cheerfully mused:  “I don’ give a f*ck.” It gave us permission not to, as well.

The craiglister guy patiently walked me through the process of selling me his ticket. I realized in that moment that sometimes you just have to trust. Sometimes you just gotta believe in people even if they let you down. You go on instinct and pure gut because you’re already there. You’ve already got it and they can’t have you anymore. There’s something larger at play now. Internal overrules external. You’re in your power.

You told me to put my hands in the air and yell my own name, Medulla Oblongata. I did it. It felt odd at first, but then I remembered, we’re all in this together.

The keyboard player started playing the intro to Kool & The Gang’s ‘Summer Madness’  and I felt like I was home.

Music is home.

Music is the home for healers and a home for those who need to be healed.

Music is it’s own universal tribe. You can weave in and out of it and no one’s going to card you or send you a bill in the mail.

I texted the craiglist dude the next day and thanked him like we were old friends.  He jokingly texted back: “I’m scared to ask if it was good show.” I responded: “Ok, I”m just gonna lie and say it was terrible.” I suppose you can’t be honest all the time.

About Kristen Demesilda

Kristen Demesilda
Writer and Photographer for Virago Magazine, Kristen grew up listening to vinyl and highlighting the dictionary. Her work has appeared in IrockJazz.com, The East Harlem Journal, Boston's Culturehive, the Ithacan and other publications. Her love of music cannot be eclipsed by her love of words. She's been coined the "Akira Kurosawa of Blogs" by such people as herself. An aspiring musician, she has a serious penchant for peach-flavored anything, multi-tasking, slow-paced thrillers and dreams of going back to South America, laying on the beach, and drinking from a coconut.

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