20/2/99

20/2/99

When [B]'Killing Me Softly'[/B] comes, as it inevitably does, it's not a schmaltzy mega-hit at all, but a reverberating, scratched-up hymn to the power of music...

She’s just too good to be true. The woman waving a hip-hop arm onstage may look like a Jamaican bag lady in her headdress, canary-yellow blouse and flapping woollen skirts. But Lauryn Hill – squillion-selling rapper, actress and mother, the pop star you might remember from such hits as ‘Killing Me Softly’, ‘Fugee-La’ and ‘Ready Or Not’ – exudes an aura of funky divinity tonight.

The ‘Ex-Factor’ posters slapped on every surface in London suggest a conventional starlet, all come-hither eyes and bared flesh. But the figure onstage, groovily leading the 17-strong carnival band, is something else altogether. Part diva, sure, but part modern sage, part gender warrior, and part spiritual leader – a High Priestess of the church of the soul. And Lord, can Lauryn lead her flock in song, everyone crooning her words back to her tonight, as though Hill‘s modern street fables were old, familiar spirituals.

Record sales and awards aside, some of this stature comes from the fact that Lauryn has transcended mere stardom, and become black music royalty. [I]Mr[/I] Lauryn Hill is a Marley, after all, and Hill‘s inspirational ‘Miseducation…’ album was demoed in the bosom of Jamaican music-making, Tuff Gong studios. But the hold she has over an ecstatic Brixton Academy is less to do with her marrying into the reggae royal family, than increasingly being hailed as the female Bob. Lord knows, the woman is righteous enough.

In a hard-hitting ‘Lost Ones’, she lectures sternly on karma, in a bass-fuelled ‘Everything Is Everything’, [I]”hip-hop meets scripture”[/I]. She and her posse – guitars, bass and drums, a brass section, three backing singers, three keyboards, percussionists a-go-go, a rapper and two DJs – amble on to Marley‘s ‘Redemption Song’, just to ram the point home.

But, like Marley, Hill‘s wise modern fables inveigle their way into your psyche via some killer tunes. And the hip-hop reggae party going on onstage more than lives up to the hype. There are spiritual concerns here, sure, but there is much ass-freeing too: ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ is sex education, girl style, but it’s also an excuse to leap up and down from the first blast of happy brass.

She keeps the soul quavering to a minimum, too, and changes back into jeans after the photographers have left. All of this suggests a woman who’d rather make a joyful noise than indulge in some star turn. When ‘Killing Me Softly’ comes, as it inevitably does, it’s not a schmaltzy mega-hit at all, but a reverberating, scratched-up hymn to the power of music.

She plays forever. She does all the hits. She talks up Brixton like she’s been down the market just that afternoon, blesses the heartsick, and would probably kiss babies if they were allowed in. She is just too good to be true. Rather than making you violently ill, though, it just makes you throw your hands up. And praise her, like we should.