One of the most prominent members of a thriving community of alternative African-American entertainers, Erykah Badu is set to take the stage at the Tel Aviv Convention Center this weekend. White American alternative music began to bubble to the surface in the Eighties with college-friendly bands like REM and Talking Heads, finally breaking into the mainstream with the grunge movement of the mid-Nineties. But hip-hop, soul and R&B were strictly commercial endeavors - be they flops or hits - from the early days of Ray Charles all the way through Tupac. It wasn't until the Nineties that acts like The Roots, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and, of course, Badu herself began to make an impact - striking an especially resonant chord with white teens. Christened queen of the neo-soul, Badu burst onto the scene with her 1997 major label premiere, Baduizm, which debuted in the number two slot on the sales chart. Inspired by classic soul, Eighties turntablism and even Billie Holiday, the album went on to spawn several hit singles, rocketing to triple-platinum status in the US alone and garnering two 1998 Grammys. Around this time, many of the key players in the alternative African-American entertainment community formed a cross-continental collective called the Soulquarians, with members of The Roots and Tribe, together with New York rapper Talib Kweli, Dallas' Badu, Chicago MC Common and others representing the then-new-school elite. (Badu has been romantically involved with Common, as well as AndrÃ© 3000 of OutKast - who fathered her son, Seven - and rapper The DOC - who fathered her daughter, Puma.) By the early '00s, after a series of sold-out shows and producing several multi-million-selling albums (including Badu's double-platinum 2000 offering, Mama's Gun) for each other, the personalities and individual careers of the Soulquarians were too big for the collective to maintain itself. But in the fall of 2004, many Soulquarian leaders and other alternative African-American entertainers got together for a concert immortalized in Dave Chappelle's Block Party. The Roots served as the house band, and the troubled comedian/titular host was on the brink of regaining control of his underground credibility by walking out on a $50 million contract with Comedy Central. By now, Badu's elaborate turbans had become her signature look and her understated surly intensity her calling card, but at the Block Party, she didn't seem fazed when her afro wig began to blow away in the wind, her set culminating with a crowd dive. The day was capped off with a surprise reunion of iconic alternative hip-hop act The Fugees, co-fronted by one Lauryn Hill. Three summers later, Hill wowed local audiences at Ra'anana's AmphiPark as part of her latest world tour, and apparently word got back to her peer Erykah Badu that Israel belongs on her professional itinerary. Roots drummer ?uestlove's web presence Okayplayer recently posted the message that "Word on the strip [Gaza, that is] is that peeps are very hip to her music and 'enchanting mystique' over there, having them excited," and a personal plea for feedback from Badu has elicited over 300 responses - mostly encouraging her to relax and enjoy herself, despite recent regional tensions. The show takes on added significance in that it is the last that Badu has officially scheduled leading up to the release of her fourth album, Nu AmErykah. Originally slated to be called Kabbah, the 18-song, double-disc opus is set to hit store shelves on February 26, Badu's 37th birthday, marking the performer's regaining of the heights following some years of inactivity and rumors of writer's block. (Her previous release was a modest 2003 EP which she didn't promote much because she had recently given birth to Puma). Dubbed Winter Party with Erykah Badu, Saturday night's performance features local opening acts Yossi Fine, Karolina and others, after which Badu is set to hit the stage backed up by an eight-person band. Live video accompaniment will be provided by Ray-V, which also did the visuals for the December 2005 Tel Aviv show from De La Soul, Lee Scratch Perry and Mad Professor. Winter Party with Erykah Badu takes place this Saturday at 9 p.m. at Bitan 1 in Tel Aviv's Ganei Hata'arukha (Exhibition Gardens). Priced at NIS 279 (or NIS 199 for qualifying Isracard customers), tickets can be purchased by visiting www.hadran.co.il or calling *6646. For those who prefer to enjoy the performance from home, Galei Tzahal radio switches over to a two-hour simulcast at 11 p.m., available globally by pointing browsers to glz.msn.co.il and clicking on the microphone icon at the top of the page.