reckoning

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Singin’ My life with Her Words…Ms. Lauryn Hill

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2011 at 6:04 pm

It all begins when you feel like someone gets you, truly understands and accepts you. When someone is not confounded in the witnessing of you. When the nudity of your soul, causes no comments, denials or judgement. this rarely happens with another and sometimes is even missing in the relationship with the self. Like most people I find the unconditionally accepting reflection of myself in music. When I was 11 years old I made this connection with Dizzy Gillespie. He spoke the language of my soul and played his horn into the timid places of my being.  No words, no lyrics, just horn and breathe. and again with Billie. And Nina. And Thelonious. And De La. And Smashing Pumpkins. And then in 1996, when I was 14.

OOOOHHH La La Laaaaa.

It could be cliche, yet no less poignant the way that I felt spoken to directly by her. I felt she found my letters and read. each. one. out. loud. So did everyone that year. The album spread like hot, juicy gossip, “Have you heard about ‘The Score? Have you listened to it yet? Have you got it yet?”  The Fugees second album, instant vintage. On the cover were three brown, pensive faces with Lauryn’s wise and quiet in the middle. Young and serious as hell.

On the night of her first appearance in almost 15 years at the hallowed palace of Minneapolis music, First Avenue, on an exceptionally hawkish January evening, stood hundreds of us to witness her. Ms. Lauryn Hill. That is what our tickets said and all of the posters. The Ms. a small honorific that becomes an awkward formality when referring to a woman that so many of us have spent hours wrapped up in the velvet depths of her voice, the ornate immensity of her metaphors.

The Score and her solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,  two albums that were almost spiritual in their thematic resonance to people of all backgrounds and experience. In the years since these albums that have rocked a generation as well as the world, it appears as though the world of Ms. Lauryn Hill had also been rocked. In ways that many have tried to understand, psychoanalyze, and judge. After becoming a legend and an icon, at the height of it all, she went away. She became a mother to five children. She stayed in her world. The world was curious at first, then not as much. She came back a couple times, transparently conflicted. So at this place we awaited her to see what she wants to share with us this time. I was on the fence as to whether I was going buy a ticket to see her for myself or responsibly pay my overdue  phone bill?

She comes on stage and she is wearing a wool fedora, a sparkling red sweater and a fur vest dwarfing her already existing slightness. I had decided I needed to go and give her love. It seemed like if anything she needed was that. Not a wanting or an expectation to be what she was or what I needed her to be. I had caught wind from reviews from her earlier dates on the tour that she had been hours late and un-apologetic of the fact. I was in an audience of youngsters who have never owned a cassette tape, let alone listened to any of Lauryn’s music on one but were curious and an older crowd who couldn’t wait to be reunited.  But here I was on my tip-toes looking on stage and seeing that she was even more beautiful then I remember.  Is it awe I feel? Yes and giddiness. It has been years. Like seeing your first crush and despite the years and all the life that has passed your stomach flips and is intrigued by the relic of your nostalgia. Here is the woman who told me it was alright to be me, a quirky, nerdy and intense black girl and understand the depth that exists within and beyond that. There she go, right up there only dozens of  feet away from me, my heart skipping beats. I was surprised to feel exactly what I felt 15 years ago when I saw her on the exact same stage, flanked by dudes and retaining a poised rambunctious edge. 

Behind her was a band that was overgrown for the modestly-sized stage. Multiple guitarists, keyboardists, bassists, back-up vocals and a drummer. The bands sound was full and tight and could ride with the depth and heavy of  Lauryn’s voice. The first song she sang was “Forever Loving Jah” by Bob Marley and the crowd began to rock in that involuntrary reggae way. To hear her sing after all of these years was spellbinding. Hearing her live and feeling the texture and emotion of her voice fill the space not only of the room, but inside of my skin.

She went through her set and played songs from the Mis-education of Lauryn Hill, but each one was newly arranged.  This created a subtle distance in that I could not automatically sing along or relate to a song that I had listened to over and over again. The crowd was silent except for applause or shouts. This resulted in a hearing of the songs for the first time after hearing it a hundred times and connecting to the lyrics in ways that I never have.  A hook  would be sped through and a lyric from a verse would be repeated like a chorus, placing new emphasis on the meaning of a song. The listening was transformed. The ad-libbing from the “ex-factor”  “Care for me, care for me, why weren’t you there for me?” became an eerie chanting that felt directed specifically to everyone in the room and to the sky and Jah herself. It was like a gift to get to hear these transformative songs and feel it in that same way I did when I was a teen and feel understood and special and  naked and open and emotional and safe.

She started opening up to the audience. Telling us she loved us, that she missed us. That she was feeling our love, that she was happy we came to see her.  That she would be back. She pointed up into the balcony to acknowledge her partner and father of her five children and her happiness that he came all the way here to surprise her. She then launched into a set of Fugees songs, which just about made me faint. Here she kept it traditional, no re-arranging or re-vising, rhyming her co-Fugees, Wyclef’s and Pras part with the nastiest of prowess. “I get mad frustrated when I rhyme!”  I began to jump and feel free and silly, singing along with every lyric that is permenantly burned in my mind. Then she sang, quietly ominously “strumming my pain with his fingers…”  holding us inside of the promise of a sure and emmininent ectasy.   She left us on her prolific rendition of “Killing me Softly” having had killed us softly, with the hope of a  rebirthing  and reclaiming of ourselves.

By:  junauda petrus