Aisha Badru

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About this artist

If being heartbroken were a vocation, Aisha Badru would be its poet laureate. With her debut album, Pendulum, fans related to her vulnerability (her catalog amassed 50M+ streams), while critics melted under her work’s radiant intimacy. (NPR marveled how Badru’s music pulls you so close “until she might as well be whispering directly into your ear.”) But now, as Badru points out with Road to Self, a follow-up EP (out June 7, Nettwerk), that ache has powerfully ushered in her story’s next act. And it is resoundingly uplifting. “I’m ready now,” she sings, mantra-like, on the ethereal-folk title track, “to love myself.”

“When I was working on Pendulum, I was asking the big questions: what does it mean to be happy, to be healed, to be free?” she says. “We all get stuck in this place of reliving heartbreak, and it got to a point where I was like, ‘What’s next?’ The EP is about leaving behind previous roads and journeying back to myself.” This is also why the first song on the EP, a pastoral-ambient instrumental, is curiously titled, “The End.” Says Badru, who started penning Road to Self last summer (with Pendulum producer Chris Hutchinson imbuing it with atmosphere), “This all about what happens after everything ended”—her relationship, her lease, her tour. In other words, Badru had to stop the Pendulum in order to see a horizon.

A series of personal experiences shaped Road to Self’s message. The first actually manifested itself years ago, when Badru had a dream that she was trapped in a prison. “I was waiting for the prison guard to come around and set me free,” she says, and in a Twilight Zone-esque twist, “the prison guard was actually myself.” That dream haunted her throughout the years, until she finally wrote “Prisoners and Guards,” a hushed, tear-jerking meditation set to the baptismal sound of rain. (“I feel more and more connected to the natural world, so I definitely see myself playing around more with nature sounds in my production,” she notes.) It’s about breaking out of cycles of pain—basically, a warm hug in the form of a meditative track, the epiphany at the heart of the album.

More recently, while traveling North America and Europe to promote Pendulum, Badru witnessed the emotional effect she had on her audience. “I had a show in Brooklyn, and there was a girl who came up to me. She came all the way from Taiwan to see my show. I couldn’t believe it,” Badru recalls. “She was crying and telling me how much she loved my song, ‘Navy Blues,’ how much she connects with my music. That meant a lot to me.” That, too, stuck with Badru. “I offered the world my pain, and people related to me. It’s my duty to heal myself, so I can help others heal as well,” she resolved. To that end, Road to Self has no songs about reliving unrequited love. Instead, it’s rooted in healing.

Another turning point came when Badru had a “powerful Ayahuasca experience” in Peru. “I received a series of messages that was directly related to health. I was being begged to view myself from a holistic perspective. You think you’re someone who loves yourself…but what kind of food are you eating? What kind of products are you putting on your body? The choices we make in our everyday lives are a reflection of our self-worth,” she says. After returning home, she radically changed her lifestyle, eliminating processed food from her diet, growing her own fruits and vegetables, beekeeping to create a safe space for pollinators. “You learn a lot about symbiotic relationships by observing bees and flowers,” she says. To that end, she also spends two days out of the week volunteering at an organic community garden program for low-income kids. “I have also become selective about the people in my life. Sometimes you just need a positive environment to yank you out of your sadness.”

That theme buoys the synth-lullaby “Enough,” which, she says, “shows the parallels between the horrible things we may go through, but the very powerful and transformative phases it pushes us to enter, to find strength within ourselves.” Its sister track, the glitch-out, beat-ific “Unrefined,” pushes further. “From the moment we’re born, we’re fed all these ideas about what is acceptable, what is beautiful, what is valued,” she says. “We create our identities around these standards that are handed to us. And we become these artificial people.” It is an anthem for all of us, to not be afraid of who we are.

Road to Self is the closest Badru has come to composing to a spiritual. “When I write music, I don’t really think about it. I let whatever light is shining down on me speak through me. I just go with it,” says the singer, whose songs never take more than 30 minutes to write. All dulcet vocals, warm cadences, and divine inspiration, Badru does exude rarified, even celestial wisdom. “In a weird way, I feel like the symbols of healing are all around us. There is an archive of wisdom buried deeply within us. It was bound for something like this to come out through me.”