Erykah Badu on the Tonight Show on Thursday (December 21); Photo: NBC


The always provocative Erykah Badu was on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and delivered a rousing rendition of her hit song “On & On.” Most remember the single from her album Baduizm, a smooth jazz-inspired number that had Badu channeling her inner-Billie Holiday.

What made this performance special, however, is that Badu performed “On & On” over the instrumental to Fela Kuti‘s “Sorrow, Tears & Blood.” The backdrops are totally different; “On & On” is easygoing, laced with slow breaks and delicate melodies. Kuti’s “Sorrow, Tears & Blood” is explosive, packed to the gills with blaring horns and polyrhythms.

The melding of the two styles is masterfully facilitated by The Roots who have their finger on the pulse of every genre they choose to embrace. And Badu does what she does best, which is float over the top of the sounds with her wicked vocals. During the performance she detours for a few impromptu moments, embracing the kinetic energy of Fela who was known for his off-the-cuff performances.

Badu’s rendition is in celebration of a Fela Kuti box set she is curating for Knitting Factory Records. Her selection includes the songs “Coffin For Head of State,” “Yellow Fever,” “No Agreement,” “J.J.D.,” “V.I.P.,” “Army Arrangement,” and “Underground System.” The set will also include a 16”x24” poster designed by Nigerian artist Lemi Ghariokwu, a 20-page full-color booklet, seven personal essays written by Erykah Badu, song lyrics and never before published photos of Fela. Brian Eno, Ginger Baker and Questlove have also curated box sets.

Badu’s performance on The Tonight Show is another example of Fela Kuti’s lasting influence. He is the father of afrobeat and his scathing political commentary is admired by both artists and fans alike. Badu’s cover is a fine example of one legend honoring the legacy of another.