Category Archives: Cultural identity


I am sitting downstairs on the 73 bus squeezed into the window seat by a big black girl with lots of shopping. She really is big. I really am squeezed in. It is 2008 and she is listening to Hallelujah on her MP3 player. Hallelujah is a song written by Leonard Cohen. It is also the Number One bestselling single by Alexandra Burke who recently won the X Factor. The girl sitting beside me, who is young and sweet faced, plays the song over and over again. All the way from Oxford Street to Newington Green. Twice she answers her mobile phone in a quiet Caribbean accent. She doesn’t like to talk on the bus, she says, because people may listen to her conversation. She plays Hallelujah again. She sings along. She cannot sing. Perhaps she does not realize that she is singing out loud. Crooning really. Out of key, screeching on the high notes. There are a lot of high notes in Hallelujah. The journey from Oxford Street to Newington Green takes over an hour. In that time, I become very well acquainted with my shy co-passenger. When she sings, she is thinking of Alexandra Burke. Who is a black girl, who is thin, who can sing, whose dreams have come true. The girl next to me put her heart into the words. She knows all of them. (So do I.) She doesn’t seem to wonder about Leonard Cohen’s more mysterious lyrics. She tied me to a kitchen chair, and from my lips she drew the Hallelujah. (Not S&M but a metaphor about domesticity, I decided.) My fellow passenger hears a gospel song. She is part of the gospel song. She is the song. Alexandra’s dream came true and so can hers. Hallelujah means Praise the Lord in Hebrew. Finally the bus arrives at Newington Green. In my mind there are now at least five versions of the song.