Modern Griots Reviews: Tongues of Fire and Erykah Badu

Sekou Sundiata – “Space”

Last weekend, I attended the Tongues of Fire tribute to Sekou Sundiata at the Apollo and I must say it was a beautiful, stirring and electrifying tribute. Curated by musical director Craig Harris, the show included his band Nation of Imagination as the musical background as for a few moving musical numbers, some with lyrics written by Sundiata and sung by the three singers of the band (“Song for a Friend,” “I Found God,” “The Writer,” The Sea.”). The other performances were a mixture of spoken word performances of works from Sekou Sundiata and Amiri Baraka arranged with music as well as performances from The Last Poets member Abiodun, rapper Rakim and Nigerian artist Wunmi.

The show opened with poet Liza Jessie Peterson reading “Urban Music” from Sundiata’s album Long Story Short and continued with Amiri Baraka’s “In the Tradition” and “Something in the Way of Things,” the humorous critique of today’s hip-hop with Abiodun and Rakim, “Some of It’s Hip, Some of It’s Not,” and ended the first part with Sundiata’s “Sound of Memory” and a funky “Blink Your Eyes” with Vernon Reid and all the performers.

The second half of the show began with Ngoma Hill’s reading  his yoruba-inspired poem, “Poem for My Egun,” leading to a cacophony of poems and music with Peterson, Baraka, and Abiodun performing together “Reparations,” and “Whys.” Wunmi grooved on stage, even getting down with Harris, during the performances of  wish-to-return home “The Healing Song” and Baraka’s recitation of Sundiata’s “Space.” Rakim was brought back out to finish the night with his classics, like “The 18th Letter,” bringing the night packed already with so much to a full-circle.


DSC00052Although I wanted to go to the Sekou Sundiata conversation at the Poets House with Amiri Baraka and Greg Tate, I instead went to Erykah Badu interview at the Brooklyn Museum. It was great to see Badu up close and she is hilarious, adorable and honest; I think I fell in love with her again. She discussed musical career from her growing up listening to an eclectic group of musicians such as Pink Floyd, Phoebe Snow, Chaka Khan and Rickie Lee Jones, and how Brooklyn has been like a mecca for her, from its afrocentric styles in the 90s to its diversity now. Badu was an MC before a singer, “Apache,” Afrikaa Bambaata, Blondie and even the vocalizing of Benny Hill  as the firsts to influence her, before writing her first songs “Apple Tree” and “On and On” and recording Baduizm. She later discussed her processes for her other albums, Worldwide Underground, Amerykah I and II, and that the Soulaquarians will have a reunion.

I liked the personal touches of the interview, such as her moments with producer J Dilla, who died from lupus. He had taught her to sample music and she described him as quiet and shy (she would flirt with him and he would be embarrassed), but also that he was an engineer with a mathematical mind (he had his Coke cans all faced the same way and if one was moved, he would put it back). Badu talked about her song “Telephone,” which was dedicated to Dilla and inspired by Dilla when he was in the hospital and envisioned talking to Ol’ Dirty Bastard who was giving him directions for which bus to take after he died.

DSC00054But she had hilarious moments as well, like when she wanted to look up the word “pedestrian” because she didn’t know what the question was or her self-consciousness about being naked for “Window Seat” (the van was parked differently than she expected and was running around it naked before she could get in). The Q&A portion of the night was funny when she was surprised that a white guy asked her about her song “Tyrone,” and when she asked an awestruck fan onstage, mimicking her accent. Badu had two memorable thoughts from the night: after all these years she has learned that she has more faith, but she doesn’t know anything and is more confused than ever, and after discussing her studies to be a doula, “although you give birth to something, it doesn’t belong to you.”

Oh, by the way, she calls Janelle Monae her twin and wants her to be her girlfriend. Haha!

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