Tony Cummings talked at length to Britain's award-winning gospel diva LURINE CATO
London's Lurine Cato has sung with more pop and R&B luminaries than any other artist on the UK gospel scene. Over the years her extraordinary soulful voice has been heard on stage or on record behind Mary J Blige, the Lighthouse Family, Adele and Kylie Minogue while in the gospel/Christian music field she has sung with Israel Houghton, Graham Kendrick, Kirk Franklin and Martin Smith. But it's the latest album of her own, the dazzling 'Chosen To Serve', which best demonstrates the enormity of the singer's talent who more than one journalist has called "The Queen of UK Gospel".
The first thing that strikes anyone meeting this elegantly beautiful singer is that Lurine looks nothing like the 43 years her birth certificate declares her to be. She admitted, "My age is a shock to a lot of people. They see me and go 'how?' Do you know what? It's just in the genes. I hardly go for facials and all that. I would love to do that but I've always been creamed as a baby. Ever since I've grown up I'm still moisturising and creaming myself. And I drink a lot of water."
Born in North London to parents of Jamaican descent Lurine is the ninth of 11 brothers and sisters. She grew up in The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and began singing at the age of three. She remembered, "During conventions they had to put me on a chair for me to be seen. Singing and dancing have always been a part of my life." At the age of nine Lurine won her first award for singing - Enfield Borough Singer Of The Year.
Lurine made her own commitment to Christ when she was 13. She remembered, "Just before I gave my heart to God Mum used to have conventions and conferences, mainly youth ones. As the youth, we would always find ourselves right at the altar crying and saying, 'Lord Jesus we love you!' Then we would go about our business and act rude again. I got to the stage where I was like, 'You know what, I want to keep this going as a lifestyle'. I was the first one out of all my friends at church to get baptised. It was a great decision. Before I got baptised I was approached by Virgin Records to be signed. I turned that down!"
But what should have been a time of spiritual growth for the newly baptised teenager descended into a living nightmare for the naive and impressionable Lurine. She explained, "A year after my baptism someone in my church groomed me. It went on for years and eventually I was molested for years. It wasn't just one person that molested me; it was another two people as well. I was sexually assaulted from the age of 13 for years."
Despite this dark shadow over her life Lurine's extraordinary musical gift was being recognised by all those in COGIC circles and, forming a duo with a friend, Redeemed, as they were called, were soon performing regularly around London's burgeoning gospel scene. Redeemed even got to make a record. "Do you remember cassette tapes?" Lurine laughed as she asked the question. "We did a little tape, I don't know if we sold loads of them or just a couple. We did it for us really. We didn't really understand the marketing side of things. But people come up to me today and say, 'You guys made me want to do this or that. . . you were amazing.' It's so funny. People who go way back say to me now, 'You were the first Mary, Mary'."
But the popularity of Redeemed couldn't begin to compensate for the inner turmoil that Lurine was experiencing. "I eventually began having relationships. Because when you've got this thing on you that you've been molested, you're very vulnerable. You don't realise it. So I went into relationships. I ended where someone literally controlled me, controlled how I looked, controlled when I laughed. He did other things that were so lovely so I thought I'm being loved when really I was with someone that was just using me. Then I went into another relationship where I got raped and beaten. It was just crazy. But I still loved the Lord, I still adored him. To me, it was like another world of things that were happening to me. And the people doing these things were all professing Christians."
Within the insular London gospel world Lurine's reputation as the best singer in town was unchallenged and this was to eventually lead into the world of pop music. Record companies and tour promoters having long recognised that most of the best singers in Britain were to be found in the Afro-Caribbean churches, the industry was constantly on the lookout for singers who could act as backup vocalists. And so it came to pass that when Kylie Minogue suddenly found that her appearances in the Neighbours soap opera was the launchpad for pop hits, Lurine was offered the chance to tour the world singing BVs for Kylie.
Lurine remembered, "I did two world tours with her. At that time I would say that I was in the church but I was going through a lot of things at the same time. So I was like one foot in the church pews and one foot out. When you have one foot out you're kind of lukewarm, they say. I was making decisions that I knew were not the right decisions. There was a guy at the time who was my boyfriend and manager and I was listening to a lot of things he was saying - this is before I was healed and everything. I don't even know how we got in contact with all these because my song 'Friends' was on a Warner Brothers compilation CD which made loads of money until I got a plaque for it. You know, when you have so many thousands sold. And then my song 'We'll Get Through It' got on to the MOBO 2002 compilation CD by Warner Brothers, that was another one. I got a number one in Norway. All these things happened and it was like people were connecting me with other people. That's what happened. It was like, 'Gosh, she's a great singer!' I was right on the verge. I did a launch at Sound Republic when it was still in Leicester Square and it wasn't Christian music. It was sold out. I had Kylie Minogue's makeup artist doing my makeup, she did it for free for me. I had so many opportunities where this magazine wanted me to be front cover, all these things. It was just when that all happened, God took me out."
Lurine continued, "I had become pregnant and it was like I had to let go of the industry. Just when I was about to let go I was offered to be front singer for Massive Attack and to go on a world tour. I was also offered to be front singer for Brand-New Heavies. I could have become a multimillionaire. But I had to let go because I had cried out to God and I said, 'Just make me into a true Christian. . .' That's what made me stop all of that. Supernatural things started to happen. I was totally transformed. Most of the time I didn't want to do anything regarding music although I remember watching people on TV who were doing backing vocals for the stars and I used to cry and think, that should have been me, that's MY client, that's MY job! Then I'd cry out to God and say, 'Are you sure I'm supposed to do this?' My family had decided to move church during this time and we went to a church that was literally just starting out. God placed people in that church who really helped me. It was a branch of KICC and the pastor really did help me. She was so honest. Also I got counselling from Bishop Wayne Malcolm. He counselled me in a way that I didn't realise I was getting counselled. It was so cleverly done. There was none of this, 'Yes, so when that happened, how did you feel?' There was none of that. He counselled me for about 11 months. That's why it's so important to be around like-minded people that can really see you through. My family as well, they couldn't quite understand what I was going through, but they were there for me, especially my Mum and Dad."
Financially times were tough for Lurine. She remembered, "Every day, there I was with two children, not singing anymore and every day I just kept on quoting 'You will never see his righteous forsaken nor his seed begging for bread'. And I kept on quoting that because I did see some hard times. People would knock on my door and I would see bags of food there. I can't remember how many times I kept on saying this Scripture but I said it sometimes throughout the day. Then I'd get envelopes through the door - 200 pounds. Then I'd get another envelope through the door, and then another bag of food would come. I was on benefits as well. Simple as that. My story is very wild. There's so much that happened. I'd be out, at the benefits place or whatever and people would be like, 'Lurine, you've got kids, I just saw you on TV' (they do a repeat or something) and then they'd see me in that place and I'd say to God, 'Really?'"
Lurine continued, "Through the restoration God was speaking to me. I could hear him clearly. I even heard angels talking to me, a lot of supernatural things happened. He said to me, 'You are now going to go out there' - I was reading Jeremiah 29: 11. This was the first time I'd encountered this Scripture. In fact it was when I was reading UCB Word For Today, and that also has changed my life because I needed to see the Bible in a different way because all I understood was Psalms. So anyway, he said to me, 'OK, Lurine, you're going back out there to sing to the broken hearted.' I said, 'Hold on God, hold on! I don't need to sing. I don't mind helping people, God, seriously, we could just help people.' During that time I was taking in single mothers with their children who were depressed. I would take them into my house and look after them for about six months with my kids as well. I didn't have much money; sometimes I didn't even eat but I would always feed them. Now those people are actually thriving. But they were very suicidal. So that's why I said to God, 'Oh no, that's ok, I'll look after people, I love doing that.' He said, 'No, no, no! You are going to sing.' So I said, 'This is the deal God: if I'm going to sing, you have to give me songs from Heaven; clever lyrics, clever melodies that are not just for the Christians but for the whole world that when the stars hear my song they twinkle more.' That was the deal and that's how it happened."
Finally, around 2010 Lurine found herself being propelled back into music - gospel music. She said, "The first song I made was a song called 'Believe In Me, Believe In You'. It was three o'clock in the morning, in my kitchen, I heard the music, I heard the sounds, I heard the strings and I was literally knocked out on the floor. I don't write for myself, I let it come from Heaven."
In 2011 Lurine released the single "You Revive Me". It has continued to be a mainstay of Lurine's live performances to this day. She said, "'You Revive Me' actually came to me while I was washing the dishes. I got this song and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, God! This is amazing.' I didn't know the impact it would make, I really didn't. There are so many testimonies from this song, of people being healed from cancer, who have been healed from blood disorder. Students who were in university, they put this song on and were able to finish their course work because it helped. I was like, 'What?'"
The following year Lurine released a Christmas single, "Following The Star" featuring Tony Momrelle and Jay Ess. Momrelle had previously found pop stardom as the lead singer of Incognito while Jay Ess is a highly regarded figure in Britain's gospel hip-hop underground. The track was produced by Marcus Johnson (Nu Colours, Soul II Soul). Three years later Lurine recorded the much praised EP 'Power'. The singer recounted, "There was one guy that I wanted to work with; he produced for Michael Jackson, JayLo, Madonna, the list goes on. His stuff is on Matrix. I'd always wanted to work with him so I said, 'God, I'm sending my angels to whisper my name into people who are going to help me. They are going to hear my name.' I wanted to work with this particular producer because I knew he had the sound for what I wanted to do. I was invited to a radio station and it was short notice. So I was, 'Oh God, I've got to do this radio interview but who's going to look after my kids?' God said, 'Don't worry. Ask this person, they will do it.' I got the OK. I went to that interview and the person I wanted to work with was there and another person was in the interview as well. So all three of us were having this interview and the person that interviewed us said, 'Can I talk to all three of you privately about something?' Then we went into the room and they shared something with all of us and we all started praying and that same guy said, 'Lurine, what's happened to your music?' And I started crying. He said, 'God told me I need to help you.' He said, 'I kept on hearing your name in my head, months ago. I kept on hearing Lurine, Lurine, Lurine.' I knew it was my angels. He said, 'Whatever you want done, you don't have to pay anything.' That's how most of my songs have been done. Everyone that produced on my first album I did not have to pay because God already spoke to them."
The release, on 21st October 2016, of Lurine's debut full-length album 'Chosen To Serve' met with immediate accolades from the critics. The Voice newspaper enthused, "Not since UK gospel legend Lavine Hudson came to the fore in the 1980s has a release by a British female gospel artist generated such excitement. But this is the case with the debut album from the Queen of UK gospel, Lurine Cato. She is a singer with faith, style, beauty and a five-octave voice which is used in a dynamic and memorable way." Guests like Isaiah Raymond (once the leader of Raymond & Co), Faye Simpson (Nu Colours) and rapper Triple all help showcase Lurine's dazzling vocal pyrotechnics while the duet with Christian music star Philippa Hanna on "Never Alone" was a particular standout on an album overflowing with quality.
Britain's black church feels it important to honour gospel performers and over the years there have been numerous gospel awards. She commented, "Yes, they do love awards. They really do. I guess because they see what happens with all the glamour stuff and I always tell people when you're doing what you're doing, when you're really doing this gospel thing whether it's Christian or whatever, two per cent is the glamour, all the rest you're on your knees, you're praying, you're helping out here, you're doing this, you're doing that. That is what it really is. I think most people think awards come with money or accolades. In some aspects it does. It all depends on the individual, what you do with those awards. I got the MOBO. When I was nominated for the MOBO I was happy and scared. But when I walked on that long catwalk to the podium all I could think about is how many people are going to get helped through this award. So many people told me their story about that night, when they saw me get it. They said they felt like it was them and I said I felt like I was getting it for everyone. And I really did because I knew the plan of God because he showed me the plan years ago. I had to write down the plan. He told me that I was going to get awards. But what am I going to do with it? That is the difference. I try to explain that to people. The award is for this earth, it's for people to open the door to you but when they open the door to you, what are you going to say? How are you going to be? That is the difference."
Refusing to have her head turned by the praises of man and being at peace that her extraordinary vocal talents have not amassed a financial fortune, Lurine is an inspiring artist to talk to. She said, "I was talking to someone about this the other day. I said, "I may not have the things that people have out there that are in the same profession as me. But if there was no result, these testimonies coming through like this, then my purpose would have been buried a long time ago. It's because of those testimonies, people saying 'I was going to commit suicide, after hearing your story, after hearing your song, I don't want to anymore.' I hear these all the time. It makes me go on. God is good."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.