Feature Stories

Erykah Badu Discusses Her Passion for Language Immersion Before Benefit Show

Erykah Badu has been lighting up the internet this week. First there were tweets between the Dallas songstress and Nikki Minaj that set off a frenzy of speculation about a collaboration between the two. Then there were selfies of her with Andre 3000 backstage at ONE Musicfest in Atlanta, which had fans reminiscing about the days the two were still together.

Tonight, though, Badu’s using her super-stardom for a purpose much closer to home. Badu is playing a benefit show tonight at the Dallas Children’s Theater from 7 to 10 p.m. to raise money for Dallas Spanish House, an immersion school that teaches students as young as 3 months to adulthood. Ahead of her performance, the Queen of Neo-Soul spoke with the Dallas Observer about her passion for language immersion, and why she sent her own children to schools like these. 

Dallas Observer: What drew you to get involved with Dallas Spanish House?

Erykah Badu: The school itself is a total success story. It started with a husband and wife who decided to home-school their kid, and they taught him Spanish. Other children and families started to be a part of that home school. Each year that the child grows, the school also grows, so now they're up to a third grade. It's really amazing; they have three facilities now. There's a Spanish House at Carol and Gaston for adults, there's a Spanish House on Skillman for preschool and kindergarten, and there's a brand new school with a first, second and third grade, and that’s what the fundraiser is for.

Is it a full-on immersion for the students?

The immersion part is really real. It’s like baptism by fire for children who haven't had Spanish before. It's almost like they're dropping their children off in Spain every day. They totally speak Spanish — all the instructors are all Spanish speaking. There are all types of cultures and backgrounds of children there.

You sent your own children to immersion schools. How’d you decide to do that?

The language and cultural appreciation makes us super confident in ourselves and in our abilities to appreciate each other. Language is a barrier, besides being far away from each other all over the planet. Languages and customs are different, but being able to speak the languages forces us to incorporate other peoples' cultures into ours. I think that that's so important, especially in the world we're in today where we're growing and evolving so quickly.

Was it your goal for your two daughters to be able to bridge that gap between cultures?

My older daughter goes to a school where the first language is French and their second language is Spanish. She's learning Mandarin this year as well. I think I'll have a secretary of Defense and a secretary of State.

Did they take to it from the beginning?

Puma, the 12-year-old, has a talent for learning languages. I didn't even know that was a thing, but it is. Her first year she became a fluent-speaking French student. With Mars it's a little different. It's only her second year, so she's a little new, but I hear her communicating in Spanish. We put little tabs in French and Spanish all over the house. Everything has a tab on it: “la mesa” is the table, “la silla” is the chair. We try to communicate as much as we can. I thought it was too late for me, but I'm catching on really well.

That’s neat that you’ve made your home an immersive learning lab. What can the audience expect from the show tonight?

This is a very intimate show; I have a three-piece band. It's an opportunity for me to communicate in my language, music, to the audience, whether English or Spanish speaking. I've traveled all over the world and learned that music is the universal language. Everybody nods their heads in unison to the kick and the snare. I want to be able to communicate emotionally to them. This is about raising funds for a place where we're merging languages. I want to become one living, breathing organism with the audience as they're immersed in my language.

Is the event open to everyone?

It's open to anyone who wants to contribute to the cause. It's mostly catering to patrons of the school and people who feel as passionate as we do about its growth and its possibilities. I'm always excited to perform in my hometown, especially when I know the performance will benefit something that will cause us to grow together.

ERYKAH BADU performs at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, at Dallas Children's Theater, 5938 Skillman St., $150 to $250.
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