To celebrate her third time hosting the 2016 Soul Train Music Awards, neo-soul queen Erykah Badu hosted an intimate dinner in Lower Manhattan. With traditional Japanese kimonos as the dress code ("It's sexy," Badu explained), a city loft transformed into a cozy friendsgiving among journalists with a seven-course meal of soul food with a vegan twist.
Before devouring the first plate, a glazed carrot dish, Badu delivered empowering remarks about the resilience of the African-American community in spite of the ongoing cases of police brutality and Donald Trump being elected into office. "Our skin is making a comeback with a vengeance," she began. "Our hearts are making a comeback, our spirits are making a comeback with a vengeance." She continued, "I see people in the streets, picketing and talking and making movements and moving because they're awake. And whatever happens next, we do it together and that's what's most important."
"This is not for you all, this is for Erykah," joked chef Bryant Terry, who put the savory menu together (culinary collective Ghetto Gastro handled the hors d'ourves while Mouton Noir Wines replenished glasses with red and white wine). "The work that I do is really about reclaiming and celebrating the way that Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, African-Americans have always eaten before our food system was industrialized. We've always eaten close to the land, we've always made food from scratch, we've canned, we've pickled and preserved. These are our legacies."
The hearty servings and uplifting ambiance fell in line with Badu's recent politically charged comments during her Camp Flog Gnaw performance. ("A lot of people are protesting and marching and angry. It's because people are woke," she said at the festival earlier this month.) However, the lowkey Monday night gathering wasn't about political grievances or even Kanye West, whose recent hospitalization served as a talking point at the table.
Beyond the luscious potato soup and barbecued tempeh, the night's final icebreaker game called "Love, Soul and Peace," embodied the spirit of the evening. Each attendee was asked to express the motivation behind their happiness, one person or thing that they could live without and what they love most about themselves. Badu did not hesitate in giving thanks for her family, wishing mosquitoes were nonexistent and proudly flaunting that she was a giver.
She also relished in the experience of being with like-minded souls. "I'm happy to be here in this moment, in being able to enjoy this moment and be in it, and not be somewhere else in my mind or be sad about something or be somewhere that I don't want to be," said Badu as if reading her guests' minds. "I'm happy to be here right now."
The 2016 Soul Train Music Awards airs on Centric and BET at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 27.