Solange - A musician and performance artist adding a spiritual consciousness to Afrofuturism
Often when musicians rise with great speed to the public’s interest, I close my ears. I mildly appreciate the discussion, but I regularly find that the immediate associations that become drawn out of the reception of these artists’ lack clarity. Audiences often get hooked onto one particular train of thought in association with that artist, and then it becomes noisy. For instance, Solange first came into my field of awareness quite a few years ago, via reposted content on Twitter and Instagram. But I didn’t feel compelled. In fact, I actually considered her as simply “Beyonce’s sister”, not as Solange. Interestingly, in late 2019 I found a new angle on who Solange is, free from the thought of the hysteria associated with her sister or some of the more controversial news reports about her behaviour with Jay-Z, for instance. Instead, the brand image of the artist Solange became clear and more visible.
The first performance that intrigued me was Solange’s live show at Sydney Opera House, and I was left in tears. The tears however were not due to viewing the performance via a 12” iPad screen, and not being in Australia itself to witness the dreamy consciousness of her self-expression. But rather, the tears reflect a personal history to the artist emitting liberation through empowering her authentic identity, and paying credit to the attitudes founded in Afrofuturism. [To note: Afrofuturism is an art movement that was born out of the late 1970s in association with the musician Sun Ra, who sought to create a future space for black identity to be freed from negative, stagnated attitudes in society. To briefly expand on this, historically the social representations of black identity often hold colonising attitudes which in turn create destabilising depictions of black people. The power of Afrofuturism is that it is a space within art that has a central focus to liberate black lives, and create realisations of blackness into a spiritual, ethereal and eternal consciousness. It is therefore important to consider the artists who are demonstrating facets of this expression to empower future audiences in present times.]
Solange entices an audience to start dancing to the melodic, electronic beats that are slow, repetitive and emanate a groovy undertone. This is followed by the atmosphere increasing in enthusiasm as the crowd cheers and begins to dance. Solange begins to recite the lyrics of ‘Losing You’ and relaying a diary-like narrative, with personal connotations to a female fearing loss and doubting her perceived male beau in love. What strikes Solange’s performance as more than a contemporary R&B fusion of soul and pop, is how it kisses Afrofuturism. It is the way in which she embodies an interpretation of her black femininity into an empowering nuance through the vocalisation of lyrics, tone and live performance. Particularly, the all-white costume magnifies the singers, dancers, drummers and base players as hypnotic angels, all emitting their cultural experience and transforming it into a futuristic archive. This future is a fusion of fashion, music and soul with an energy that is youthful and fresh for the aesthetic of black females. For example, the hair styling, body stances and interactions between the performers evoke this ambience of embracing black identity while simultaneously creating an accessible expression for her audience.
The monochrome balance found in the presentation of the set harmonises with the sound. For example, the triangular arches of the set provide a minimalist construction that draws a cohesive link with the live performers dancing a choreographed routine. Solange then begins to sing and produces sounds that mirror with the electronic beats while also juxtaposing slightly as the timbre of her voice becomes a closer representation of her internal persona. This style of performance left me considering the way in which Solange’s adds to the consciousness of spirituality found from music, as her vocals are free from constraints of singing with an expectation – instead she is gesturing at her own language of expression. To finalise, it is therefore worth considering that when a new artist rises to public domain, maybe take a moment to listen to something completely different to the mainstream space. Let your ears wonder into a new dimension of sound, then while the frenzy calms down, take a listen and see what you find.