Upon my receipt of an email containing an invitation to a soul vegan dinner hosted by Erykah Badu that required the donning of a kimono, an immediate response came to mind: Of course Badu wants me to eat vegan food dressed like Kinu from A Different World.
Badu doesn’t strike me as a Popeye’s Tuesday two-piece-special kind of person, so vegan food sounded about right. Fair enough, because not everyone wants food that sometimes comes with body hair—enough to make you put back the BBQ sauce and grab a razor. And given her long-standing command of all things visual and eclectic, a pro-kimono dress code wasn’t all that surprising, either.
Also not shocking: It all made perfect sense once you entered her space and broke vegan bread with her.
The event, held last Monday at the private dining space the Kitchen Table, was sponsored by BET and Centric to help promote this year’s Soul Train Awards, airing Sunday on both networks. As Badu explained to the dinner attendees, this marks the third time she has hosted the iconic awards show. For those who don’t recall the first (I didn’t until she reminded me), it was when Badu co-hosted with the late Heavy D.
In a desire to not sound like a complete country trope, I’m well-aware that vegan food can be appetizing. Now, I don’t know why tasty pasta with secret orange sauce has to be called vegan macaroni and cheese, but blasphemous naming aside, the dish can be a delight. I’ve had other satisfying experiences, but have also embarked on some that are the culinary equivalent of an oil spill.
This was not the case here, though, thanks to the talents of Oakland, Calif.-based vegan chef Bryant Terry, who handled the seven-course meal, and New York City culinary crew Ghetto Gastro, who handled the hors d’oeuvres. Their efforts made a few things clear: Vegan chili can have a kick; you can, surprisingly, make something coconut-based taste like Blue Bell ice cream; and BBQ tempeh tastes great even if you had no clue what tempeh was beforehand.
Good food and wine aside, what felt most rewarding was the host herself, whose presence was felt even before she formally made an appearance. Badu set the tone as you walked in with the scent of incense and purple lighting. It will be just as evident tomorrow night. As Badu recently revealed to USA Today: “I did a lot of things, including writing the monologues and writing the intros for some of the presenters, choosing the artists who would perform and helping to create the segments.”
Once Badu did make her way out to greet guests and lead dinner, you were reminded of what makes her such an ideal host for the legendary award show. She was earnest with her engagement of the sea of black faces before her, she was naturally funny and she was incredibly genuine when reflecting on her love of the show. One of the other best things about Badu is that while she may shift your mind to the nostalgia of her debut nearly 20 years ago, as her 2015 mixtape But You Cain’t Use My Phone reminds us, she’s ever so current.
Much of the Soul Train Awards will be hopping back and forth between revisiting the past and letting our present stars shine. Both Brandy and Teddy Riley will be honored for their legendary careers. Other ’90s acts, like Ma$e, Carl Thomas and Wreckx-n-Effect, will also be performing. As for contemporary acts, Yuna, BJ the Chicago Kid and Badu collaborator D.R.A.M. will be gracing the stage.
Of course Badu will be guiding the show throughout the night. One other thought that came to mind the night of Badu’s soul vegan dinner was the importance of catharsis. For many, tomorrow will be a few hours of escapism.
The show was taped days before the election, so there will be no response to the election of Donald Trump Minute Maid Mao.
“We didn’t get too deep into politics,” Badu explained. “It was strictly about music and letting it bring out whatever emotions each individual wanted to have. It’s about music doing what it does best, because music is our politics. Music is our escape.”
If Sunday night’s show is anything like the dinner she hosted, it will be a fun, soul-fulfilling, much-needed distraction.
The Soul Train Awards air Sunday, Nov. 27, at 8 p.m. EST on BET and Centric.