To Badu

Pamela Davis-Noland talks about her tribute to Erykah Badu.

CHERYL GERBER PHOTOGRAPH

After debuting at the New Orleans Fringe Festival in 2009 and travelling to Houston and Oklahoma City, New Orleans writer and producer Pamela Davis-Noland’s Badu-izms: A Tribute to Erykah, a musical tribute to the neo-soul goddess, returns to New Orleans May 11 at its biggest location yet, The Joy Theater. This tribute has extra cachet: Davis-Noland got blessing from the artist herself when she talked to Badu backstage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2009 (she also got legal clearance to use Badu’s music). Davis-Noland says Badu’s mother and sister have seen the show, in which Badu’s catalogue is interpreted through musical vignettes, but she’s hoping for Erykah to make an appearance this year. “We have not been blessed with Miss Erykah’s presence yet … but we’re crossing our fingers for the Mother’s Day show,” she says. “She’s always invited.” Davis-Noland talked to us about the show.

How did the idea come about? The idea came about in 2006 … I saw a production at Dillard University that was a tribute to Fats Waller. Watching it, I wanted to pay tribute to someone with music in that way.

For every tribute it seems to be the person is already dead. I wanted to pay homage to someone whose music changed my life, and I wanted to do it now and not wait for them to be dead.

(Choosing Erykah Badu) was a no-brainer for me, because I’m such a fan. I worked in radio for years, and at the particular time her music came out I had been bombarded with all types of music, and I was disgusted. She came out with a message, and that saved music for me.

What about Badu’s music speaks to you? In particular, as a black woman, I think she spoke so plain. There’s an unspoken language among us as black woman. It’s a knowing. And that’s something she was able to bring out in her music that we had conversations about it. She was like a girlfriend next door. It’s like she went into our dairies, went in our heads, in such a profound way … proclaiming her beauty and our beauty in her music, our strength, our downfalls, our triumphs. At that time it was all cookie-cooker, bubblegum bullshit – there was no message. She also opened the door for several other artists: Jill Scott came through that door, Lauryn Hill came, lots of strong black woman. She was saying, “I’m here, I’m strong, I’m beautiful, I’m black, it’s my message.” It gave me a voice to say this is exactly how I feel … I feel like I’m that woman in my work.

The Joy Theater is the show’s biggest venue yet. It started from humble beginnings on St. Claude Avenue, and we took it all the way to other cities and now it’s back to New Orleans on Canal Street. It’s our first time doing a theater like this. The show started as a rag-tag, shoestring budget Fringe Fest show, now it’s this amazing thing. Every time we do it, Erykah has a new song or message, and we incorporate it every time. The music changes every time, the cast and even the scenes change, but the message is still the same. It’s about women, empowerment, love and relationships.

For more information on Badu-izms: A Tribute to Erykah, visit TheJoyTheater.com.

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