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The Roots Of… Erykah Badu Discovers Her African Ancestry

Erykah Badu discovers her African ancestry in the latest installment of 'The Roots Of...' series on Okayafrica TV.


Photo credit: Kyle Goen

Erykah Badu's musical and stylistic oeuvre has long played with Afrocentric references, from her personal iconography of ankhs and gracefully patterned headwraps to the poetry of her lyrical allusions to the bright continent ("They call you indigo, we call you Africa / Go get baptized in the ocean of The People" - "The Healer"). Even the adopted surname 'Badu' has a West African pedigree, being a suffix reserved for a 10th-born child among the Akan people of Ghana. And although she had been curious – even going so far as to consult with a few shamans – she had never been too concerned with tracing where she was from, physically. As she put it, she was "satisfied with just the knowing that I'm part of the all."

Still, she agreed to be the newest subject of Okayafrica's “The Roots Of…” series, in which Erykah Badu aka Badoula Oblongata; aka Sara Bellum; aka Maria Manuela Mexico; aka Annie the Alchemist; aka Fat Belly Bella; aka DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown; aka "She Ill," aka Analog Girl In A Digital World (okay, player?) – or more simply the Q.U.E.E.N. – takes a DNA test to trace her roots back to the precise region, country, and tribe of her maternal ancestors. What she learns during an encounter with some of her newest extended-extended-extended family members – getting baptized, so to speak, in the waters of her maternal people – both illuminates and underscores some of her own distinctive qualities, and changes the way she sees her path unfolding towards the future – helping her to become, as she puts it, a "better Erykah in Amerykah." For our part, Okayafrica is proud to have played a part in the historic addition of a new name to the illustrious roll call of dopeness that unfolds when Ms. Badu steps up to the mic and introduces herself. To learn her newest name, though, you'll have to watch "The Roots Of…Erykah Badu" below:

If you haven’t yet seen our first episodes of “The Roots Of…” series, check here to watch The Roots‘ African ancestry revealed to Questlove and Black Thought, here to check out Q-Tip‘s real tribe, here to see Flying Lotus trace his own soul makossa to the motherland, here to see why Michael K. Williams has the “Heart of a king, blood of a slave,” and here to see comedian Wyatt Cenac and Comedy Central‘s The Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams swap saliva with a fuzzy piece of cotton to determine where in Africa – and what tribe – some of their ancestors may have come from. You too can discover the country and even tribe where it all began: to get your own DNA test, check out our partners over at African Ancestry.

 

Videographers:

Lance Steagall, Jake Remington, and Kevin Ornelas

(Collabo!)

Editor: Jake Remington

All music: Sam Champion

Interview
Photo: Jolaoso Adebayo.

Crayon Is Nigeria's Prince of Bright Pop Melodies

Since emerging on the scene over two years ago, Crayon has carved a unique path with his catchy songs.

During the 2010s, the young musician Charles Chibuezechukwu made several failed attempts to get into a Nigerian university. On the day of his fifth attempt, while waiting for the exam's commencement, he thought of what he really wanted out of life. To the surprise of the thousands present, he stood up and left the centre, having chosen music. "Nobody knew I didn't write the exam," Charles, who's now known to afro pop lovers as Crayon, tells OkayAfrica over a Zoom call from a Lagos studio. "I had to lie to my parents that I wrote it and didn't pass. But before then, I had already met Don Jazzy and Baby Fresh [my label superiors], so I knew I was headed somewhere."

His assessment is spot on. Over the past two years Crayon's high-powered records have earned him a unique space within Nigeria's pop market. On his 2019 debut EP, the cheekily-titled Cray Cray, the musician shines over cohesive, bright production where he revels in finding pockets of joy in seemingly everyday material. His breakout record "So Fine" is built around the adorable promises of a lover to his woman. It's a fairly trite theme, but the 21-year-old musician's endearing voice strikes the beat in perfect form, and when the hook "call my number, I go respond, oh eh" rolls in, the mastery of space and time is at a level usually attributed to the icons of Afropop: Wizkid, P-Square, Wande Coal.

"My dad used to sell CDs back in the day, in Victoria Island [in Lagos]," reveals Crayon. "I had access to a lot of music: afrobeat, hip-hop, Westlife, 2Face Idibia, Wizkid, and many others." Crayon also learnt stage craft from his father's side hustle as an MC, who was always "so bold and confident," even in the midst of so much activity. His mother, then a fruit seller, loved Igbo gospel songs; few mornings passed when loud, worship songs weren't blasting from their home. All of these, Crayon says, "are a mix of different sounds and different cultures that shaped my artistry."

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