Artist, Mother, Musician, Vegan, Alchemist and our Main Inspiration on Her Rituals, Meditation, Gentle Home Births, and the Impact of Becoming a Doula
Maranda Pleasant: Hey Erykah, how are you?
Erykah Badu: I’m good.
MP: What inspires you the most?
EB: That’s real general.
MP: [laughing] What are some of the things that inspire you, how about that?
EB: Okay. I really can’t say what inspires me the most, because I’m inspired by just about everything. My feelings and relationships, my family, Scooby-Doo. A teacher’s opinion of my work. Everything. Not just one thing.
MP: What is it that makes you come most alive, makes you feel most alive?
EB: Water. Drinking it or submerging in it.
MP: What is it that makes you vulnerable?
EB: My art. Or the empty platform that my art will go on.
MP: What do you do with pain, emotional pain?
EB: Not one particular way. It depends on the severity of it. For the most part, I go with it. I let it happen.
MP: How do you keep your center? How do you stay grounded in the middle of chaos?
EB: I guess it’s the daily routine. I don’t have any particular thing I do ritualistically. I do the same thing every day. I get up. Drink a lot of water. Have a wheatgrass shot. Drink some green juice. Eat as healthy as I can. I’m not trying to win an award for being the best vegetarian, just want to be healthy. Take a salt bath. Do things that my parents were never able to do. I’m blessed to do anything I want so I decide to take the best care of my body and my family in the same way. Holistically. Vitally.
MP: How long have you been a vegan?
EB: Let’s see. Since I was nineteen. How many years is that?
MP: [laughing] That’s a long time.
EB: Yeah. I’ve been vegan-vegetarian for about the time my first album came out, so it was 1997. I eat like a vegan, more than anything.
MP: Do you have any wisdom or advice for women who may be in negative, unhealthy or abusive relationships? Do you have any wisdom for those women?
EB: Mm. I have advice for people—period—who are in unhealthy relationships: Follow your heart. It will get you to where you need to be. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy, the places that your heart takes you. But continue to follow it. Where the train leads you—you’ll get there.
MP: What inspired you to become a vegan?
EB: The diet, really. Honestly. I was already a vegetarian, I was studying to be a holistic health practitioner. I just learned a lot more. I went to a different degree, or level, of health. And I started to study and understand how the body actually works, and what was best for it. That’s really how I started eating that way. I never call myself a “vegan” or anything like that. I call myself that for the sake of the foods that I eat. But I really don’t like to be associated with an organization or a team of anything. I’m just eating as healthy as I can, and I think I define it as “vegan” because I don’t eat any sugar or eggs, meat or dairy, or products that are made with chemicals. That’s why I eat the way I eat. That’s the reason why I choose to nurture myself, because I learned it was the best way.
MP: It’s probably why your skin looks so good!
EB: Thank you.
MP: I had my daughter naturally at home, in our bathroom, with a doula. The doula was probably the most important person in that room with me. What led you to become a doula?
EB: Let me see. It was 9/11, actually. Around that time. One of my girlfriends was in labor, she happened to be the wife of stic.man from Dead Prez.
MP: He writes for us!
EB: They’re my best friends, both of them, stic.man and Afya. I was actually flying from somewhere, doing something. On my layover, stic.man called me and told me Afya was in labor. I just redirected to New York, because we’re friends, and I just had Seven a couple years before. I just wanted to be there and we just all wanted to be together. I happened to be the person, one of the people, that stayed up with Afya. Didn’t sleep. Never got tired. I could feel every emotion that she had. It was just a very natural, intuitive experience. I just knew how to open myself up to the baby and be the welcoming committee. And now when Afya was in labor for fifty-two hours. Day and night. She’s my hero. And she finally had the baby and put my finger in his palm, and I kind of felt like, I like being the welcoming committee. I just continued to be present at different people’s births, and I started studying on my own, different techniques, and the variables of what being a doula is about. I learned to originally be like water, in the place that I was, so that I could be a container for whatever they need. I love being of service in that way. I’m an official doula, and I am working to get my midwifery license right now.
MP: My midwife and my doula shaped my entire experience. It was beautiful. Have you had a homebirth?
EB: All my children were born in my bed. In my home. I had a midwife and doula each time.
MP: I chose the bathtub. They could not get me on my back. [laughing]
EB: I had my first child in 1997, his name is Seven. My second child was born in 2004, her name is Puma. My third child was born in 2009, and her name is Mars. They were all born here, about six years apart. I breastfed until they were too old.
MP: I got a little flack about breastfeeding until my girl was three years old.
EB: Right, right. When they can talk and say, "Excuse me?" That’s when you know, okay, now this is getting ridiculous.
MP: What has shifted for you, what is the thing about motherhood that flows through you? Is there something in you that is different, or that you have learned?
EB: I don’t know. I’ve got to think about that. I’ve never been asked that.
MP: You probably just live it. You’re not used to answering it, you just live it.
EB: I try to. Well, I just learn as I go. There’s no set way. I have a lot of faith in my abilities and in my children. I like them a lot, you know. They’re really good people, and I like them.
MP: What is one truth that you know for sure?
EB: Everything must change.
MP: Do you practice any kind of yoga or meditation?
EB: Breathing is my way of life. As a vocalist, just as a person who’s main focus is evolving, breathing—that’s my meditation. I enjoy yoga classes. I walk in meditation. I dance. I’m a ballerina. Modern jazz and tap. But I would love to get into a good yoga class if I can stay focused and breathe. I love the connection I have with myself every time I take a yoga class. It’s a very nice remembering, remembering the parts of me. You know what I mean? But I walk and breathe in meditation. Another meditation I do: when I walk I count my steps, so I’m really in the here and right now. Another meditation I do is try to stay out of my mind as long as I can, as an exercise, so I don’t believe everything I think. I do many different things. Many different exercises that keep me focused.
MP: I like that you said, “So I don’t believe everything I think.” Are there any causes or anything happening on the planet right now that you’re passionate about, or that concerns you?
EB: I can be nice to any stranger but it’s a real challenge to be a higher self around people that you know and accept you no matter what.
MP: When I asked some of our readers what words came up for them when they thought of you, “strength,” “warrior,” and “poetry” were a few that we got. Where do you draw your strength from?
EB: I don’t know. Too soon to say.
MP: What a great answer! Too soon to say.
EB: Yeah. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
MP: It ain’t over yet!
EB: No. No. This is just a demonstration.
MP: [laughing] This is my warm-up.
EB: And that’s how you end it right there. Period. [laughing]
Photos by Kenneth Cappello