Thrilling us softly

Often fiery ex-Fugees singer Lauryn Hill endures glitches to impress in her first Spanish solo show

Lauryn Hill performing at Rototom on Sunday.
Lauryn Hill performing at Rototom on Sunday.ángel sánchez

She was over half an hour late. But for someone who has not released an album of new material for 16 years, who had never performed a solo show in Spain before, and whose Google suggestions for completing the query “Lauryn Hill interview” include the words “crazy,” “racist” and “illuminati,” the delay could even be described as elegant.

Here then, finally, was the ex-Fugees member, the winner of eight Grammy Awards, the mother of six children, and the woman who spent three months behind bars last year for tax evasion and called her jailers racist.

Lauryn Hill’s arrival in Spain to play the 21st Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival in Benicàssim was preceded by great expectation over her emotional instability. But as the concert date loomed near, interest seemed to focus less on her psychiatric tribulations and more on her musical abilities, which are incalculable.

Much of what is going on today in the hip hop scene, in R&B and even in the situation of women in the music industry is the result of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the debut solo album that sold over eight million copies and brought Hill five Grammy Awards in 1999, not to mention earnings of over €25 million.

She did not break anything, did not walk out, and did not insult anyone

On Sunday, the 39-year-old diva attracted 35,000 people to the closing concert of this year’s Rototom Sunsplash festival – the largest of the entire week, rivaling attendance at last year’s concert by Damian Marley.

With 45 percent of ticket holders from Spain and the rest hailing from as far afield as New Zealand, Jamaica, Taiwan and South Africa, the lineup for this year’s event featured more American musicians. Communications director Claudio Giust said attendance this year was 250,000, up 10,000 from last year. Benicàssim also hosts another music festival, FIB, which recently held its 20th edition.

Hill, who has five children with Rohan Marley, son of Jamaican legend Bob, finally walked out on stage only to come up against a host of serious technical difficulties that turned the first 30 minutes of her performance into a battle between the singer and the elements. Yet Hill kept her cool. She did not break anything, she did not walk out, she did not insult anyone, and she did not take to the bottle. She kept going until the glitches were fixed. But her frown made evident her mood after several classics from her debut album had been lost to the sound problems, including Everything Is Everything and To Zion.

Things began picking up with Ex-Factor, and Hill also started to work harder on her stage presence. But it was not until the acoustic set that the New Jersey native really began to feel comfortable on the stage.

Hill is one of the very few celebrities who has turned down Oprah Winfrey

Rumors regarding her attitude in the hours prior to the show had predicted all number of outcomes. On one hand, she had apparently asked her driver to break all the speed limits to get to the hotel as quickly as possible. On the other, she was said to be in such a good mood that she had even toyed with the idea of granting an interview – a rare event indeed: Hill is one of the very few celebrities who has turned down Oprah Winfrey. Her last encounter with the press had been in 2012, for 10 whole minutes, inside her car. The reporter and his editor sat down on the curb afterwards, crying out of the sheer emotion of the experience.

Following the acoustic set, Hill revisited her Fugees past with Ready or Not, Fu-Gee-La and a faithful rendition of their popular cover of Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly. The final stretch of the concert was reserved for classics such as Doo Wop (That Thing) and more Bob Marley covers (Jamming). The lights were still on when Hill walked out. Predictably, nobody knew where she was headed or what her future plans are. But she has set up her own label, and it is – fairly – likely that she will release a new album this year.

In Benicàssim, Hill also sang one of her latest creations, Black Rage, which seems to drop in and out of her live repertoire, but she had only decided to record after the recent race riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Such are the ways of this elusive diva who could be seen sitting on her hotel terrace at 4.30am after the concert, hanging out with her musicians and assistants. “You tripped 10 times over that dress you’re wearing. I told you so,” said one of the backup singers about the peculiar white outfit that Hill wore towards the end of the show.

“I don’t trip, I just fall,” replied Hill with a smile.

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