Tag Archives: Lauryn Hill

#2 ~ Get Your Ish Together

Getting your ish together is the foundation to passing finals (and not dying in the attempt). Your ish can be a variety of things, in the same way that it can come out in a variety of textures. For some people, their time management skills are as haphazard as diarrhoea, it’s all over the place. For others it’s commitment, they just can’t commit to the time needed to get it all out. Some people might be so full of themselves they’re just gassed wherever they go and coming down a few pegs will help them see and feel better, I don’t know what yours is (i’m only just working out my own), but whatever it is, getting it together means every other part of your daily existence runs just that bit more smoothly.

Earlier this summer my sister and I met up with a friend in Brixton. We were on our way to an LBoogie concert and figured we might as well go the whole hipster way and check out the gentrified ends of former ‘Riot Central’. The set time was 3pm with the standard contingency time of 30mins just in case ( because, obviously, we had already planned to be late). 3.30 came and we weren’t even on the train. My sister turned to me, and said quite simply

‘K, we need to get our s*** together. We are grown women, this is not ok.’

Having graduated earlier that summer and found a job, my sister had taken on the mantle of a YOPRO a.k.a young professional (about town), and that meant an overhaul of her already pretty nifty wardrobe and a sense of ‘responsibility’. I, still an undergraduate who spent her summer doing the pre-production work for her last theatrical venture was, quite gladly, a chaotic mess that didn’t even try to be artistic.

4pm came and we had only just got underground. Our ish was definitely not together. And the most disconcerting part about it was that, yes, one was partially embarrassed for being late, but at the same time – we had planned to be late, hence contingency time??! Our ish was so over the place we’d bought a pack of diapers, not just in case, but for when our time keeping spilled over the bathroom floor and soaked the carpet. And in the back of our minds that was…normal, to be expected.

But that is some messy ish, and I realised, if I want to BOSS this year, as in totally dominate and walk out of this university city with my head high up in the clouds because, I came, I saw and I conquered, then how I use my time needed to be a top priority.

But linked into that awareness that I needed to be punctual (and therefore not miss lectures and run around all day like a maniac who then needed to purchase Mitcham ’cause normal deodorant was just not going to cover all that stressful sweating), was also presentation.

I’ve always been fond of the hobo look – it takes minimal effort. I also like the idea that people find my mind and my actions fascinating and not my body (there’s good value in this, but I also know i’m speaking from a small hole of insecurity too). But presentation is important. Last year, after one of my friends had graduated I went to meet her. She looked sharp. Black polo neck, big gold chain and earrings, dark bottoms and healed boots, she was suited, booted and graduated. When I asked her about the get up, she turned to me, and said gravely (but in a very animated fashion)

“This is war! We have work to do. I needed to face my final exam with my game face ON (she literally capitalised her speech). Do NOT get it twisted, rocking up in your PJ’s does not put you in the zone. I needed to dress like a Queen so I could dominate the exam like one. Nuff said’.

She had her ish together.

So yesterday, I went shopping. I was on time having made a checklist. I took the small money I’d been saving in the summer, looked at my empty cupboards with the lone secondary school jumper with its holey sleeves waving at me and was like

K – get your ish together. Get dressed for battle, because the war is coming.

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#287 ~ Psalm Series.1

Rather than cattle

I walk these streets like chattel

one simple inversion/insertion

another consonant, and the bondage, the chains the slavery to material gain is made

permanent.

I walk these streets like Soweto

paved in cobble stones, Lauryn’s invocation of Gippeto

holding me, in position, stringed to the percussions

which chime the beats of this chattel-esque procession

begging with each chink,

that you would find – and redeem,

me.

Psalm 119 vs 176 “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”

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#281 ~ Mixing Water with the Wine

When one becomes famous, journalists rarely like to ask them the well trodden questions. You should know your artiste’s biography down to the nursery school they went to, the city in which their parents met, the ward they were born in, and the name of the Doctor who brought them screaming and covered in blood into this harshly lit world.

Niche, inquisitive, ‘avant-garde’ questions are preferred. This desire to be innovative has spawned a new set of well trodden ‘quirky’ openers, such as the frequently asked: what was the first album you bought? My issue with a question such as exhibit A, is that it assumes when you were growing up you had money to buy an album. It assumes you personally, owned a CD player, or had the right to place a shiny disk into the Home System. I did not have these rights. I acquired a shared CD player on my 13th birthday, and all the acquired CD’s were birthday gifts and therefore predominantly consisted of P!nk (my sisters choice), or me borrowing (for extended periods of time, with no definite end) my mum’s albums.

These questions undermined my notion of what it meant to be a young teenage adult. I would hear young celebrities talking about the first concert they went to when they were 16, or the first music festivals they attended before they’d completed their GCSE’s. I saw friends flocking to watch Fall Out boy before their year9 SATS were over, whilst I sat home and watched Children in Need – the closest we came to a live concert.

So, when I imagined myself a Rising Star of tomorrow, being interviewed because I now had enough fame to not have to be the interviewer, I was nervous. I didn’t have a niche answer to give. I didn’t buy records or mix tapes, I didn’t even own my own MP3/CD player till I won a Public Speaking Competition at 15 (and even then didn’t use the free iPod for a whole year). What could I do? The Spice Girls tape that hinted my mum and had children had not been bought with my pocket-money – why pocket-money was almost a foreign word in our house!

However, tonight, tonight, i truly became a young, ‘hip’, adult. I took myself, on my jack jones, to watch the legendary Joan Armatrading in concert – and I felt grown! Yes, sitting with 2 empty seats next to me, in an audience predominantly swaying with white middle-aged people (the ethnic demographic more about location than artist), I suddenly knew what is was like to be ‘a la mode.’

Joan captured my heart at the ripe old age of 9. Having listened to Down to Zero one too many times, I decided if I couldn’t beat my mum’s musical tastes, I’d join them, and I’ve never looked back.

Approaching her mid-50’s and still a better guitarist than most, her licks were on fire, she had the mummy shake down pat, and her voice had barely changed, I screamed like a girl. No, I am a girl. I screamed like a boy when he screams like a girl and get’s embarrassed. I did a weird hyper-oh-my-days-she’s-singng-LIVE!- shake for the good part of Down to Zero, which turned into a dreamy smile of complicit love when All the Way from America oozed over the speakers. I could and couldn’t believe my eyes. Joan Armatrading. The first woman, before I’d even heard of Lauryn Hill, Angela Davis, Tracy Chapman or Ms E. Badu who wore a ‘fro and played a nasty guitar, with much funk and Paul Simonesque lyrics, was standing under 100m’s away from me – singing songs that have been looped so often my sister even, unfortunately, knows the lyrics.

I can only say in conclusion to this ecstatic experience that I’m so glad that now, I can tell the world, my first concert was a Joan Armatrading concert at the ripe ol’ age of 19. I went with just Me Myself and I, and it was darn good!

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#133 ~ Belong

When you look out into the World, you desperately try and see your own reflection. Seeing it stare back at you, one you can define/associate with – it brings a gentle touch of comfort. It reminds you that loneliness has yet to swamp your being, that you belong to something.

That sense of belonging can stem from the music pumping through your earphones that makes someone sitting next to you smile: they like that tune as well. It’s when you put in a movie suggestion and get a round of fist pumps for a reply. Or when you tie a brightly coloured headscarf as a crown for your head, slip some Mozambican cow-horn hoops through your earlobes and walk with pride through a traditional English town: the few ethnic people break out into beaming smiles of recognition and affiliation.

These episodes work to affirm you, build in a sense of security, a grounding foundation of identity. Yet they are always challenged. You’re not really  a fan of Lauryn Hill because you haven’t heard her second album, don’t know how many children she has and didn’t realise that she’s the same person in Sister Act 2. You only want to watch The Avengers because it has some fit actors in it – stop pretending it’s because you actually grew up reading Marvel comics and watching Cartoon Network with the ‘mandem’. You aren’t really ‘African’ because you don’t know why there was a civil war in Liberia, don’t speak your native tongue and your skin hasn’t been  burnished by the sun.

It can be like a horse-kick in the chest. Being brutally excluded from your self defining group, that sense of affiliation, of belonging that is ripped to shreds like an unwanted bank statement: into tiny, infinitesimal pieces that can never be put back together again, let alone recognised for what they once were.

Sitting beside all the other pieces of rubbish that didn’t quite make the grade, that feeling of loneliness you tried to avoid comes over to say Hi. It wants to be your friend, but you shun it as well, turning that once proud back into a ‘LEAVE ME ALONE’ sign, curled over, broken, resigned.

Yet, I say, embrace it. Turn back around, stretch your face from a frown into a timid smile that will burst into a sunshine beam and say HI. HOW ARE YOU? WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MY FRIEND?

Because Loneliness is a lie the World tells you. It tells you it is wrong to be alone, to walk alone, to enjoy being alone. But that is because the World is afraid: it’s afraid that you will wake up and realise, your identity does not depend on other people. On other people defining you and saying you’re good enough, that you’ve made the grade and then welcoming you to take a place in their ‘prized group.’ The World doesn’t want to let you know that actually, how you view yourself and what you affiliate yourself to is your choice. There is no quota you have to fill before you claim to like an artist. It doesn’t matter if no one knows how you were soooo obsessed with Spiderman you broke your arm pretending to be him. It doesn’t matter if your skin hasn’t been burnt by the sun, the pigment that is there, your melanin count, is itself a testament of your origins.

But most importantly – your identity is rooted in the Creator of Creation. You were formed as a unique individual to stand alone as part of the body of humanity, as part of the wonder of Creation. You are who you are because you are who you are – and you, and you alone, are loved for that because of that. Yes, this potentially anastrophic construction may seem contrived, naive, only applicable on the shiny, pure surface of an LCD screen. But we feel that way because we have been conditioned to turn a truth into a lie, a friend into an unrecognisable foe, love and acceptance into things to be revoked.

Stand tall, be not afraid to be different, be not afraid to BE YOURSELF. Even if that means having to put up with people’s quasi-acceptance which is as durable as evaporating water, here today gone this second. Learn to look in your own mirror and say HELLO, and identify yourself, then BE. With that confidence, you will be surprised how attractive, inspiring, evocative it is to the world that tells you, you don’t fit in, you didn’t quite make the grade. As that confidence oozes from your very being, it liberates others to STOP CARING about what the WORLD HAS TO SAY, and enables you to START BEING who YOU are.

Take yourself out on a date. Seriously, go to Nandos (or if you don’t have a full stamp card some other place that will give you decent quality food at a decent price). Ask for a table for one. Repeat it when they smile jokingly. Sit down. Order your food, order your free tap water, consider the desert menu then check your wallet. As you say grace and begin to tuck in, have a conversation with yourself (this can be internalised or externalised, it’s your choice). Get to know yourself. Get to know the exquisite creation that is you. Pay your bill, smile, get up, and step back into the World liberated, illuminated, and shining the beautiful light that is a part of creation who has realised just that. That it is and belongs to Creation – and that is enough.

BE yourself

KNOW yourself

SEEK self improvement

To BECOME selfless

To become YOU

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#113 ~ Free your Mind

Free your mind from all the doubts

The fears of inadequacy that creep up stealthily –

Free your mind from all the voices

That tell you to worry –

Free your mind from the fantasies and dreams

That take you away from an engrossing reality

Free your mind

And let it Be in the present

Get peace, Get Free, Get Alive

With a freedom inspired mind.

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#98 ~ SelahSue

Rough, ragged, raw. Those three adjectives just brush the corners of the voice of Belgian artist SelahSue. Encountering her after a stumble through the world of Youtube I had to stop and take a look around. Inspired by funk, pop and reggae music, the 22-year-old cites Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu as influences and you can hear that in her Euro-fusion voice and Lauryn-esque chord structures. Yet, there is something exceedingly haunting and uncanny about her half-formed voice which emerges like sharp bursts from her throat before being chopped off, her mouth finishing the sound in silence.

When SelahSue sings, the intention is focused acutely in her eyes, in the pained expression of her mouth, and the slightly mis-placed timing of her chords. Yet it is endearing, it’s strangely seductive and painful. I’m aware that the music world is veering very widely between commercial success and the avant-garde, the ‘undefinable.’ There is a new interest in artists who are like musical versions of Jackson Pollock paintings – the classics among us wonder whether they really are singers, musicians, if they actually have a talent or are just there for some slightly precocious person to appear ‘ahead of the game.’ Perhaps some may see SelahSue this way, but even after you’ve finished listening and maybe even critiqued on the harshness of her vocals, the raw, almost bloody-hacking tone of her voice, the awkward formations of her mouth, and the slightly unfocused poignancy of her look, you go away and hear a faint echo drawing you back in. There is a mellifluous attitude that shapes the movement of her voice, and a fresh authenticity in her lyrics. Stripped, naked, and oddly wholesome, her music seems to reach out a gentle hand and stroke deep inside, before disappearing like an ephemeral whisp of smoke.

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#32 ~ Shame

Shame. It’s an obscure word. Sometimes people tell you to be ashamed of yourself – often you don’t know why. Sometimes we admit that we are ashamed of ourselves, but what we really mean is we are embarrassed, mortified, upset, saddened, disgusted. There’s a vast lexicon of words that could adeptly substitute for the place shame takes in our regular speech.

Shame, with it’s harsh beginning that sounds like a violent ‘shush,’ before disappearing into the softness of an ‘mmm’, it’s a complex word. When have I ever truly been ashamed? I’ve been embarrassed, mortified, felt uncomfortable…

Once, that I can remember. I was in the middle of a stage, a theatre stage. I had just won a singing competition. I walked on to collect my award, slightly dazed, sweaty and conscious of a range of spotlights illuminating my face. It was me. Not the identity i carved when I sang, but just me. They asked me to give some words of thanks whilst accepting my award. The first person i wanted to thank was God. Then I cringed. What a typical oscar opening line – “I just wanna thank God for my life, my mom, dad, just, everyone who ever loved me” blah blah blah. No, the audience didn’t need to hear that. It would appear disingenuous, contrite, inauthentic. They wanted something quick, easy and unmemorable, they wanted to go home.

I thanked three people in quick succession. My mum, my twin and my singing teacher, then I skeddaddled out of there quick sharp, or at least, retreated back into myself whilst I waited on stage to take photos.

Today I spotified Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged Album. It got varying, and often condemnatory reviews when it launched in ’93. She had let her voice go, she had become moralizing, the songs were unfinished, undeveloped. These are all astute and evident observances. Her voice has taken on a taught, contracted quality that strains when she attempts to reach into a higher register. She does spend a good amount of time talking about herself, life lessons, God and his redeeming love, hope, liberation and contesting the confining music industry that wanted to prostitute her for all her worth.

But there is one track that struck me. Just in the last few minutes of ‘Gotta Find Peace of Mind,’ something breaks. The emotion bursts forth like a dammed river, her voice cracks, but it cracks deep inside the being of the voice. There is a mental, emotional gear shift because what she is singing about, what she is proclaiming, is resonating within her like close harmonics. She can’t but admit how merciful he is. Her Coda just is: “merciful, god you are so merciful.”

She bared her soul to the world and was unashamed to say something unattractive: simply exactly what she was feeling.

So often we try to compartmentalize ourselves into what people want. What they want to hear. Everything has a time, place, and audience. And yet, we cry out for authenticity, to know one another, to be in relationship, friendship. We revolt against the manufactured images that plaster our inportable world. The unattainable ideals. We want to see real women, we cry, real men, real jobs.

Shame comes when we suppress our voice and produce a lip-synched sound that fits with what we assume our audience wants to perceive.

I was ashamed when I left the stage that day. I wanted to proclaim in the most corny, cheesy, and absolutely overdone fashion the words – thank you God for my life and this opportunity. Thank you for blessing me with this gift.

Maybe no one wanted to hear it. But it was what I wanted to say, and considering they asked me to speak, it was my right.

Miss Hill seems to have lost her shame and become all the more attractive for it. She’s found her voice, and, most importantly, she uses it – constantly.

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