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Erykah Badu‘s recent performance at the birthday party of Swaziland’s King Mswati III has earned her criticisms from human rights activists.
“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 U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation’s Alex Gladstein said in a statement.
The hip-hop and soul singer sang “Happy Birthday” for Mswati on his 46th birthday. He is considered Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Badu has taken to defending herself online, posting on Twitter, “I was not paid by the KING. I had no idea of the political climate.”
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In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, she explained the performance was a favor for American jeweler Jacob “The Jeweler” Arabo, who was throwing a party for the king and needed a last-minute replacement for a performer who’d suddenly dropped out. Badu, who’s been recording her sixth studio album in South Africa, hopped a helicopter for the show.
She said she sang a song at the full stadium, handed Mswati a gift from Arabo, then went to stay at a friend’s house.
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“All the people were smiling when I sang. I was smiling. We ALL felt good in that moment,” she tweeted.
Four-time Grammy winner Badu is described on her Facebook page as a “community activist” and “conscious spirit.”
Meanwhile, Mswati has become notorious for his polygyny, marrying his 15th wife last year, and lavish lifestyle that’s at odds with the rest of the country. According to the United Nations, 63 percent of Swaziland lives on less than $1.25 a day. Allegations of torture and other human rights abuses are widespread, as well.
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.
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