She’s a modern-day Billie Holiday. She’s an actress who’s starred in hits such as 1999’s The Cider House Rules. She has a child, called Seven, with rapper André 3000 of OutKast. She’s won four Grammy Awards, been nominated for 19 in total – and taken home just about any other gong going. Her real name is Erica Abi Wright, aged 40, from Texas and, even if you’re not a fan, you’ll know her first hit ‘On & On’, from 1996. And this week Erykah Badu is coming to Dubai. We met her ahead of her slot at the Chill Out fest to find out just how chillaxed the soul queen really is.
You’ve released five very well-received albums. What was the secret to keeping the sound fresh?
Being current with my spirit and keeping up with what’s going on with me, because the music is where I am – and I have to be where I am at all times.
So you think it’s more important to be in touch with yourself than with whatever is going on in the music industry at the time?
Yeah. I pay attention to that too and it has an importance to me, but it’s not the last word.
Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started out?
A lot of things, but I really like where I am and how everything has gone. I wouldn’t change a thing.
What do you think is the secret to your longevity in the music industry?
I have no idea. I just wake up and say my prayers and do the best I can do. I never underestimate the audience’s ability to feel my truth and its relevance and how it relates to them.
You don’t sound like a person who lives a very rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. Do you think that helps?
Sometimes I do. Sometimes I have a lot of fun and I’m a very, very lazy artist and procrastinate a lot. But if I’m in a place I stay there and I don’t apologise, and I think it’s all part of moving; procrastination is one of
the biggest parts of moving. That’s what living means to me, the things in-between the work.
What are the most important things in between being a musician for you?
For me it’s slowing down, for long periods of time.
In a kind of sleeping way, or meditation, or…?
Just sleeping, lounging, lying on the grass, lying in the hammock, lying down and being able to breathe, and just being selfish. You have to go out and be equally generous, so you have to have some energy. I love day dreaming – a lot of creative things come out. I need to get rest.
We’ve heard that you’re vegan. Is this correct?
Yes, I’m a vegan, I eat like a vegan. I don’t do every single thing; I’m not trying to win a best vegan contest. But I’ve been a vegetarian for 24 years and I’ve been a vegan for 14 years.
You’ve said in the past that the vegan diet is a way of being, rather than just about what you eat. Do you think that this has influenced you music? You know, you’re a very soulful singer.
Yes, because the cells react to what they’re fed a lot of the time. When we have more oxygen in the body, the blood pumps quicker to the heart, the heart says yes. And I guess when you’re moving fast like that in a healthy kind of way, your expressway inside of you is not clogged, so you’re thinking a lot clearer and you’re not as cranky. Hormones are a bit more balanced as a human, so it does affect me. But I don’t really know – it’s too soon to say. It’s only been, what? 20 years?
Final question: what advice would you give to somebody who is just starting out and idolises you?
Master the arts by following your heart. Follow your heart.