Mon, Nov 26, 2007 - Page 13 News List

'I feel my mojo and I like it'

From dealing with divorce to tackling racism, Jill Scott is nothing if not a fighter and a steadfast soul star

By David Peschek  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

On the heels of a successful box office movie "Why Did I Get Married" and a new CD project, The talented rhythm and blues singer Jill Scott performs at the House Of Blues in Los Angeles, California.

PHOTO: AP

"It's been a difficult night. I haven't slept yet," Jill Scott says quietly. "I got an e-mail from my lawyer - said, 'Congratulations! You are divorced.'"

Before the 2004 release of her second album, the Grammy-winning Beautifully Human, Scott was about to marry her "best friend," and she couldn't have been happier. Being married to the man who was also her manager, however, turned out to mean that she could never relax. The pressure became unbearable and she left. The remarkable thing is that despite the upheavals of the intervening period - of which divorce, it transpires, is only one - she is still glowing. "I think I'm definitely better for it," she says. "I'm angry, and a little wounded, but I feel my mojo and I like it."

Scott has certainly been keeping busy: her schedule this year has been dizzying. She finished recording her new album, The Real Thing, in February, then turned to acting, making her first major film, Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? (a US box office No 1) between February and April. Meanwhile, she was auditioning as Mma Ramotswe, the lead in Anthony Minghella's film version of Alexander McCall Smith's bestselling novel, The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Then she went back to the album, auditioned again for Minghella, got the part, did some more recording and flew out to Botswana to film. In September, six days after she got back, the album was released. During this period - in fact, on the day Minghella flew from the UK to Scott's native Philadelphia to audition her - Scott's mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She is now completely cancer-free, something Scott says is "amazing."

Scott's ability to inhabit completely whatever she's experiencing is part of what makes her special. She grew up in a less-than-wealthy neighborhood of north Philadelphia. "My background is not grim because of the love I received," she stresses. "We didn't have money, but anything that was free as far as arts were concerned, we were there. But yes, people were murdered all the time in my neighborhood, and a lot of the guys that I grew up with are gone, from homicide, or in jail. A lot of the girls I grew up with were pregnant by the time they were 16. I just was lucky."

Scott started as a poet - her latest collection, The Moments, The Minutes, The Hours, is a bestseller - and graduated through the performance poetry scene, through guest spots with fellow native Philly hip-hop innovators the Roots, to her own records. Anyone who fell in love with her 2001 debut, Who Is Jill Scott? - which features songs such as A Long Walk, a giddy litany of the joys of falling in love - will know that Scott's breadth of musical vision, range of vocal personalities and love of language sets her far above the glossy, brittle banality of some of her contemporaries. Her new songs have the same wit, precision and spirit. "I'm alive," Scott says, "and very happy about that. But a lot of this music has come from leaving [her marriage] and being celibate. So much of my ... " - she searches for the right word, imbuing her choice with maximum innuendo - "wanting came out on this particular project. You can call it horny if you want to." She grins. "Which is fair."

The characters in Scott's two films couldn't be more different. In Why Did I Get Married?, she plays a 127kg woman who remains in an emotionally abusive marriage because she believes it's God's will. "It was tough: I was angry with her for staying. Then having to wear a fat suit was hard, because people's reactions were so different. I'm not a small girl as it is, but then to add another 59kg ... "

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