Erykah Badu in Swaziland, via Human Rights Watch

King Mswati III is the monarch of the African nation of Swaziland. He holds absolute political power in his homeland, has 15 wives, and is worth about $200 million. His lavish lifestyle has been an economic albatross for his country, which perpetually exists near the brink of financial ruin. His regime has drawn tons of criticism from human-rights groups, and he’s been accused of things like kidnapping prospective wives. And Erykah Badu just sang him “Happy Birthday.”

As Billboard reports, people like the Human Rights Foundation spokesperson Alex Gladstein have criticized Badu for performing at Mswati’s birthday celebration. On Twitter, Badu has pleaded ignorance, writing things like, “I was not paid by the KING. I had no idea of the political climate” and “I’m an artist with a big heart not a political activist. Not my area of expertise.”

Badu has also spoken with The Dallas Morning News about the performance, saying that she did it as a favor to Jacob Arabo, better known to those familiar with early-’00s rap lyrics as Jacob The Jeweler. Arabo was planning the party, and after a performer dropped out at the last minute, he enlisted Badu, who was recording an album in Johannesburg, South Africa. She took a helicopter over to the stadium where the party was held, and she describes the performance as “harmless.” After performing, she stayed at a friend’s house, and she complains that she gave all her performance money to “servants in the house.”

Here’s what Badu says about the criticism:

Because of my status, it’s a media opportunity for the human rights groups to further their agenda. If I did have a relationship with the king of Swaziland, why wouldn’t they take an opportunity to speak with me to see how I could help solve whatever issues they are having rather than attack me? But they did not. It’s very unfair to say my performance is an endorsement. There is no place on this planet that I would not visit. I will always take an opportunity, if invited, to go to the people wherever they are in whatever condition they are in.

(Photo via Human Rights Foundation)

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Comments (5)
  1. that’s not the erykah badu i know

  2. It’s becoming tiresome all this “I did not know that country’s political regime was so-and-so”-excuse from pop stars happy to take-tyrant-money-and-run. I love Erykah’s music, but surely she could have done some research beforehand. Or someone from her entourage told her so. Pleading ignorance doesn’t cut it any more. At least Queen admitted that playing Sun City in the Apartheid years was all about the money.

  3. Jason Sywak  |   Posted on May 1st 0

    Why do Americans get upset with this sort of thing? Our own government spies on us, reserves the right to imprison us with no court trial and can keep us locked up indefinitely thanks to laws like NDAA. Our own government devalues our currency by printing more of it at whim, they create policy based on their buddies in any given industry that ultimately makes it harder for most of us to gain upward economic mobility. In other words, Americans have our own problems to focus on with our own tyrannical leaders. Maybe deal with your own backyard first before worrying about why Badu is performing for another nation’s tyrant.

    • Pointing out one bad thing doesn’t negate the other bad thing. It’s stil possible to be outraged by the bs of the American gov AND think that Badu singing happy birthday for the King was a dumb ass move. Pleading ignorance about the political situation is fairly lame as well, given she’s clearly aware of the interwebs and Dr Google.

      There MIGHT be other agendas by activist groups at play here but that doesn’t really make her choice any less questionable.

      I like her as an artist but something has always rang false with her African earth mother, spiritual goddess schtick.

  4. Calling our leaders tyrannical in the context of King Mswati III is flat-out silly. I don’t care if you’re talking about Barrack Obama or George Bush or whoever – we’ve never had a leader that could be defined, even slightly as a tyrant.

    I don’t deny that we’ve got our own problems, but I personally can multitask my outrage. And the people condemning Badu are human rights organizations, whose fucking job it is to be outraged when an American does something shitty like passively endorse a tyrant by singing him happy birthday. Whenever a pop star performs for a dictator, it provides the government an air of legitimacy, used to further oppress his people or suppress their revolutionary goals.

    No one’s calling for US military intervention… people would just like to know why Badu – a seeming intelligent person as pop stars go – did it. I don’t think any one’s going to lose much sleep about this past Monday, but Badu would be wise to respond with someone a little more deep than “that’s how kingdoms twerk.”

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