Erykah Badu - New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War)

2008-04-30 11:20
Erykah’s back with a graceful album for new-style activists about fighting the same old enemies: Conformism, greed, ignorance and, most of all, apathy.

In the eye-opener, “Amerikahn Promise”, Badu - with 70s old school outfit Ramp collaborating - paints today’s America as a sci-fi lie, an Orwellian world where those who question are made examples of, and promises are hollow. Sound familiar? Well the ideas may, but the sounds are as fresh as Erykah’s ever were. This is no mere vehicle for her voice -although the fibrous vocals are as spinechilling as ever. And it’s not just another decent album about managing your man, either. Badu’s delicate, thoughtful songs evoke complex feelings that go beyond their seemingly worn political messages – you’ll feel the delicacy of harmony in “The Healer”, be reawakened by the humourous self-exploration of “Me” and its puzzling pentatonic closing. Picking up a serious groove, Badu explores how we harm ourselves, with a glance at Brenda Fassie on the pulse-racing piece “The Cell” .
In a radio-run music industry dominated by booty babe cock rock old skool britney pop nu skool gangsta rap papparazzi ho philly girls waiting at home singing to wash your feet cause you’re my Idol won’t take no more cause I’ll survive and I’m my name my name my name ego driven intro intro intro I’ll scream someone if I have to skp another intro, trash just pouring out of radios and into our ears and filling our minds with nothing worth keeping, I’m so grateful to Erykah Badu. I’m so grateful to anyone who makes music about stuff that really matters.

And despite the serious themes, this never becomes just another (yawn) “protest album”. There’s just too much going on musically; the beats are too beautiful. Badu sets up tensions with close harmony, adding a gentle jazzy touch that makes playing it again irresistable, until you get all the messages. She infuses american pop with afro-arabic threads, and teases the pace, while persuading your heart with poetry.

- Jean Barker

What’s going on? India.Arie has disappointed us, Jill Scott’s too heartbroken to try something new, and Lauryn Hill sounds so samey. How are soul music folks meant to stay conscious?

What to read next: Kalahari

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