Published May 01, 2014Over the years, various musicians have come under fire for performing for controversial world leaders, including Beyoncé, Usher, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez. We can now add Erykah Badu to that list, since the soul singer has been criticized for performing at a birthday party for Swaziland's King Mswati III.
Last Thursday (April 24), Badu appeared at the Mavuso Centre in Manzini, Swaziland, where she sang "Happy Birthday" for the 46-year-old leader and presented him with a gift.
Alex Gladstein of the Human Rights Foundation said a statement, "She owes us all an explanation. The king is a kleptocrat who lives in the lap of obscene luxury while most of his countrymen toil in abject poverty for less than $2 a day."
The press release adds that the king has imprisoned those who have questioned Swaziland's justice system
Badu has defended herself with a lengthy string of tweets, arguing, "We are in a political season and I am being Used. WATCH CLOSELY." She claimed, "Many groups performed. It was an all day event. The culture was simply breath taking. Uncontaminated. Ancient," and wrote, "All the people were smiling when I sang. i was smiling . We ALL felt good in that moment."
Speaking with the Dallas Morning News [via Billboard], Badu said she was tapped to perform by jeweller Jacob Arabo, and that the gift she presented was from him. She had been recording in South Africa — a short flight away from Swaziland — and apparently gave the money she made from the show to the servants in the house where she was staying.
I want to address the people, not a group or a government agency. The people know I was not endorsing the king or helping to further his political agenda. I have no agenda. I went into a situation not completely knowing the political climate of the kingdom. I can't be held responsible for the situation in the kingdom because I signed up as an artist, not as a political activist. I don't belong to anyone or to anything. Anything I do is because I am a human being, and I am for the people.
This is an opportunity for groups claiming they are for the rights of humans to shine a spotlight on this situation using me as a tool. The people that I've walked with for the past 15 years know who I am and how I move and need no explanation. The people who don't know won't understand anyway, so why explain?
This isn't the first time Badu has faced controversy. In 2010, she was charged for stripping naked in her "Window Seat" video, and she once had a Malaysian concert cancelled due to her body art using the symbol of Allah.