Erykah Badu Is Under Fire For Performing At The King Of Swaziland’s Birthday…But Does Artistic Engagement Equal Endorsement?
In the past week our girl Erykah Badu has been heavily criticized for an apparently impromptu decision to perform at the King Of Swaziland’s birthday celebrations. A lot of the internet outrage felt misplaced to some of us in the Okayplayer office, but then we ride for Erykah Badu pretty much off principle. Since Badu and the politics of music are both subjects that our close to our hearts we sought counsel outside the office and asked Dr. James Peterson, Director of Africana Studies and associate Professor of English at Lehigh University to share his thoughts on the subject. Those thoughts resulted in an Okayafrica editorial which you can read below (and which generated a little controversy of its own…):
In just a little over a week’s time, Swaziland, a small nation ruled by an autocratic “monarch” in sourthern Africa, has been in the news more than it has ever been. The LA Times, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, and Slate amongst other media platforms, have all weighed in on a recent controversy that demands international attention: Erykah Badu sang Happy Birthday to King Mswati III, who turned 46 in late April. He’s a Taurus. Badu flew from South Africa – where she is recording some of her sixth studio album – to Swaziland at the request of Jacob “The Jeweler” Arabo after some other pop star/artist dropped out of the event.
The Times, the Post, and Slate all saw fit to cover this story as a fait accompli – another American pop star, ignorant of global/African politics, sullies their activist cred and endorses a brutal dictatorship – see J-Lo, Beyonce, Nelly Furtado and Mariah Carey for ready reference. This coverage makes sure to mention that Mswati drives really expensive cars, flies in private planes, and generally lives the lavish life of a dictator while more than half of his subjects, the citizens of Swaziland, survive on less than two dollars a day. After all, pop stars, famous jewelers, material excess and political ignorance are the very substance of American news media, i.e. this is the stuff that people want to read about and click through.
Mswati’s status as the “last absolute monarch” on the continent of Africa has become as close to mainstream news as it may ever be. There is no democratic/political metric by which Mswati would be considered a benevolent leader. As outlets have recently reported, Mswati is a dictator. He has overseen the full ban of political parties and effectively rendered illegal any and all political dissent. His regime argues that the largely homogenous Swaziland would be terrorized by any political activity that does not emanate from the regime; in effect, the regime argues that democracy itself is terrorism.