Pop: Soul diva shines

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The Independent Culture
TO GET the full effect of Lauryn Hill's show, you needed more than a passing acquaintance with a range of musical styles that traversed decades as well as cultural divides.

As Hill took a break half-way through the set, her 13-strong entourage juxtaposed jazz with calypso, dub reggae with rock and swing with gospel, infusing Brixton Academy with a boisterous carnival atmosphere. This instrumental interlude was rounded off with a riotous session at the decks where a pair of DJs took to spinning records with their shirts over their heads. But even they couldn't outshine Hill.

After the monument to cliche that was The Fugees, Lauryn Hill has had a lot of ground to cover in her quest for credibility.

The Fugees may have made a string of hits, but their hip hop prattling and numerous cover versions had rap purists frothing at the mouth in fury. But while the former Fugees Pras and Wyclef Jean went on to produce some mind-bogglingly awful records, Hill redeemed herself with an album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which delighted hip hop purists and R&B devotees alike, and introduced newcomers to the notion that rap really could exist with a woman at the helm.

This achievement was gracefully backed by Friday night's show. As Hill moved between the mellifluous soul of "Nothing Even Matters" and the emphatic rap of "Every Ghetto, Every City", the auditorium rippled with the sound of her honeyed voice and the crowd were reduced to kindergarten kids waiting for their teacher to dispense the next piece of wisdom. Hill gesticulated with every word, clutching her head, twitching her eyebrows.

But behind the unsullied sweetness of her face, Hill revealed traces of bile. "Some wan play young Lauryn like she done/But a new thing test me, run for my gun," she spat in "Lost Ones", with a flash of truculence that showed that the rough did indeed come with the smooth.

Hill's pursuit of moral rectitude can be exasperating - the finger-wagging sentiments of "Forgive them Father" made me want to sign up for the next Cradle of Filth gig - but her air of righteousness was short-lived as the undulating bass rhythms and raw emotion of "When it Hurts So Bad" took hold and the crowd lost themselves in Hill's sugary soul.