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)