While we sat eagerly awaiting our Lauryn Hill, the lights dimmed and our eyes were directed to a vintage, albeit inexpensive, white film screen, that was placed unevenly at the foot of the stage. What’s going on? Where is Lauryn Hill? Isn’t there supposed to be an opening act, I wondered? Isn’t there a local artist, a rising child star, or a comedian to move the crowd while we waited for our beloved star? Instead, a projector rolled and the 2014 Sundance film documentary Concerning Violence began to play. Though Ms. Hill hadn’t yet arrived onstage, her pre-recorded voice provided the narration for the film.
“Miscommunication leads to confrontation”
Though I had never heard of the film produced by Swedish filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson, I was familiar with some of the text from the essay of the same name, “Concerning Violence”, written by Frantz Fanon in his Wretched of the Earth, an anti-colonial text. Used as the context for portraying the violence leading up to the African liberation movements of the 1960s-1970s, Ms. Hill’s narration of the film was a befitting way to reacquaint her fans with who she has always been, to remind them of some of what has always mattered to her. It was not entirely surprising that she would use this venue, given the captive audience, to advocate on matters of social justice and human rights in a more dynamic and thought-provoking discussion. Ultimately, she indirectly challenged what we consider entertainment. Does art at its best, challenge listeners and viewers to probe beyond cover art, catch-phrases, and hypnotic beats?
“L’s been this way since creation”
I cherished seeing Ms. Lauryn Hill, a recently announced national treasure by the U.S. Library of Congress. After what seemed like an indefinite hiatus to fans, the announcement that Ms. Hill would perform for her Small Axe Performance Series had me more than a little stoked. While Ms. Hill has garnered wide commercial success, I always admired her for her refusal to conform to industry’s expectations. Ms. Hill made it clear, both on and off record, that she was not willing to acquiesce to an industry model of entertainment that would only stifle her freedom as an artist. Though the media would prefer the convenient characterization of Ms. Hill as crazy, true fans like me, have always known otherwise.
Ms. Hill’s decision to show this particular film to her fans was telling. This was less about promoting her body of work, and more about framing the urgency of present-day concerns as they relate to being Black in America. Clearly, this performance was not going to be standard fare for curious concertgoers or even diehard fans, but an invitation for deeper contemplation by both.
“My emancipation don’t fit your equation”
Ms. Hill’s narration registered more as an appeal to her fans–affectionately referred to as ‘comrades’–to consider understanding the current problem of race and the systemic devaluation of Black lives. She implied the question, “how might we get from beneath the complex layers and construction of colonization which finds us still reeling from its effects?”
Although steeped in Hip Hop, a genre oftentimes harshly criticized for misogyny and violence, Ms. Lauryn Hill unleashed a Nina Simonesque freedom-fighter teaching while remaining convincingly rooted in Hip-Hop, spitting lyrics that flowed like water, sans cypher.
She was unapologetic as a wholly affected Black woman artist refusing to separate herself from the current context of race and Black Rage in America.
Ms. Lauryn Hill is a courageous example of how one can fuse art with personal convictions and experiences. For example, whether she is dropping truth to a group of inquisitive yet idealistic college students, or narrating a film for an award-winning documentary, Ms. Hill’s brand of truth-telling continues to rebel against the posturing and neutrality that has become normative of the entertainment industry.
“I was hopeless now I’m on Hope road”
Lauryn helped us, her fans, to go beyond convenience and trivial responses to complex problems. Ms. Hill knowingly risks disrupting relationships and the status quo by saying what she means, when others dare not. She undoubtedly will make others uneasy as she challenges us to get out of our metaphorical boxes.
Ms. Lauryn Hill eloquently penned War In The Mind, while bellowing “It’s Freedom Time … Get free, Be who you’re supposed to be!”
Who are you supposed to be?
Finding Ms. Lauryn Hill’s Lost Ones was worth the wait, even if it was a decade in the making.
Italicized lyrics – “Lost Ones“, Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Photo Credit: Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
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