Oftentimes, the best parts of an UnderCover Presents tribute show are the moments you least expect.
For example: Watching Inspector Gadje (a 14-member brass band) team up with the Queens-born rapper Sandman for a truly once-in-a-lifetime rendition of Lauryn Hill’s “Forgive Them Father.” The contrast of boisterous brass with spitfire lyrics was a special brand of magic that the UnderCover series continues to conjure in its efforts to celebrate iconic albums and local musicians.
The series, which has operated since 2010 under the guidance of Executive Music Enabler Lyz Luke, has paid tribute in recent years to artists ranging from Green Day to Sly and the Family Stone. Each show is organized by a carefully chosen guest Music Director, who in turn selects Bay Area artists of all genres to cover a cherished track from the chosen album.
In the case of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill — the seminal 1998 record by the former Fugee member that remains her sole album to date — Luke wisely entrusted the project to Meklit, an Ethiopian singer-songwriter with a profound understanding of the intricacies of music and how different styles and notes can compliment and challenge each other from track to track.
Lending itself naturally to the model of an UnderCover Presents performance, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a genre-defying work that traverses soul, hip-hop, reggae, and R&B. Many songs are a hybrid of Hill’s striking singing voice with her formidable skills as a rapper. To realize such versatility live, Meklit tapped an array of artists ranging from blues singer-songwriter Noah Kibreab to three-time national champion a cappella act Vocal Rush.
The physical space of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts was an ideal backdrop for the evening, as the stage was ingeniously split in two via a sliding wall panel that made it possible for one band to play while the next set-up their equipment out of sight.
In one memorable moment toward the end of the show, the bassist for Meklit’s performance of “Nothing Even Matters” spontaneously joined in during the bridge of Kibreab’s performance — yet another example of the spontaneous beauty that always seems to grow when you put enough talented people into a room together.
Music wasn’t the only art form on display Saturday night, the second of a three-night run for the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill tribute. A truly remarkable range of video footage complimented each performance, ranging from scenes of the recent women’s march on Washington to shots of Zion, son of the RUBaDUB POSSE singer Kimiko Joy, during the band’s take on “To Zion.” While visuals accompanying live performances can be downright intense (think The Flaming Lips and Animal Collective) and other times a bit too one the nose (Morrissey showing footage of police brutality during “Ganglord” comes to mind), the art of the visual medium infused with music can also be transcendent when done correctly, as it was in the capable hands of UnderCover Presents.
While no formal survey was taken following the show, it’s a safe bet that most of those in attendance would agree that Miss Faye Carol is guilty of a felony for stealing the stage with her irrepressible rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” A singer in the tradition of Billie Holiday, Carol has been performing since the mid-1960s. Introduced by Luke as “a singer who was doing hip-hop before hip-hop,” Carol’s performance had the timeless elegance of a Holiday show-stopper with a modern additions, such as the F-bombs that Carol uttered on more than a few occasions.
Taken together, this latest UnderCover Presents concert was a reminder of what a profound and original space Ms. Lauryn Hill created with the release of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and of how many musicians, locally and globally, her artistry continues to inspire.
“Lost Ones” – Femme Deadly Venoms
“Ex- Factor” – Cosa Nostra feat. Lilan Kane
“To Zion” – The RUBaDUB POSSE
“Doo Wop (That Thing)” – Babii Cris
“Superstar” – Howard Wiley and Extra Nappy
“Final Hour” – Kev Choice
“When It Hurts So Bad” – FR333 feat. Astu
“I Used to Love Him” – Josh Jones Latin Ensemble
“Forgive Them Father” – Inspector Gadje feat. Sandman
“Every Ghetto, Every City” – Noah Kibreab
“Nothing Even Matters” – Meklit
“Everything Is Everything” – KATDELIC
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” – Vocal Rush
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” – The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol
“Tell Him” – Sol Development