Photos: Alice Feldt, © MCA Chicago

 

“Appreciative of people who get what I’m trying to come with…”

For as long as America has existed, a racial rift has shadowed it vehemently. Rather than try to hide from it or abide by a certain list of rules set forth by white would-be oppressors, Solange has instead insisted on establishing an entirely new playing field full of pride, exploration, experimentation, visual art, performance art, creation, and imagination. Yielding to no one in her quest to redefine what true musical artistry looks like, she sat down with Britt Julious at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago to discuss how appreciative she has been of the support following her release of A Seat at the Table, the impact of such a masterpiece, and staying true to oneself in the art industry. Rather than aspirations of assimilation and acceptance, Solange has actually done one better, leaving herself to her own devices. “There are so many of us doing weird shit and different shit. I’m excited to see the next generation of artists enjoy that freedom in a profound way.”

“Creating a frequency that could speak for me.”

Solange has undoubtedly and unapologetically created a league of her own, a visual performance art protest in and of itself, a declaration of interdependence on audio experiential experimental endlessness. With last year’s A Seat at the Table, the national conversation taking place over the bubbling to a boil racial climate was serendipitous with the album’s subject matter. Now celebrating its first birthday, the autobiographical and meditative thesis on the black experience in America, Solange talked and the intimate crowd at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago listened to a thorough conversation on what it all means.

In “formulating a sonic landscape before the lyrics” for A Seat at the Table, as well as observing the ways of the world, Solange acknowledges that she “couldn’t ignore what was staring me in the face.” The album “for my own exploration and self-care,” opens with a transformative notion that can be applied to the endurance required to run the rat race in this torn nation:

Fall in your ways so you can crumble
Fall in your ways so you can sleep at night
Fall in your ways so you can wake up and rise

Walk in your ways so you won’t crumble (so you won’t crumble)
Walk in your ways so you can sleep at night
Walk in your ways so you don’t wake up and rise…

“Started writing in 4th grade,” Solange’s evolution into our modern-day Nina Simone could not be more obvious if the late-goddess came down from the heavens and declared it Herself. Solange may have messed around and found herself seated at the table’s head as opposed to merely a seat. Experimentation and exploration of self both artistically and personally while channeling Claudia Rankine, who she says is “brilliant at saying what the fuck it is,” and continuing the artistic expedition of Miss Simone, Kara Walker, Erykah Badu, and Aaliyah, Solange has not only created an audio/visual experience unlike any other, she has formed a league all her own.  

“This is the year. I’m willing to risk it all, willing to fight for it so the battles don’t have to be fought so hard.”

We live in a predominantly white country with a deep-rooted history of racism and violence against non-whites. We need to take a good long look in the mirror, a good long search of the soul in order to salvage some semblance of understanding and resolution; this talk series is a nice-sized step in the right direction. Solange acknowledges that “the art world definitely has its own issues,” referencing some sentiments she’s received from the powers that be: You should just be happy to be here. We the people of the audience groaned loudly in perfect unison. Solange continued, “I’m not interested in that conversation. You’re not asking x, y, or z to do that. Don’t ask me to do that. I’ve had to stand firm and realize my vision.”

“Black women have to go twice as hard as anyone else,” Solange admits while counteracting that with her own rebuttal of self by “navigating through that in a more fearless way.” The positivity is absolutely infectious, the electricity in the audience palpable from the moment you walked in the MCA’s entrance to the moment you exited into the night. That’s power. That’s beauty. That’s “the magic grace of black women.”

“…doing the work where it’s uncomfortable to have these conversations. I’ve enjoyed that, and people have been really receptive. I definitely want to further the conversation.”

But what happens when people aren’t receptive, have no desire whatsoever to listen to what the other side sounds like? The conversation can be comfortable when you’re “preaching to the choir like Pussy Riot,” as Solange pointed out during her talk, but how do we take the conversation to the other side in order to understand each other fully? Britt Julious has a similar vibe, pushing the envelope and steering the conversation in a way that could open minds on one side while reinforcing those on the other.

Now I don’t want to bite the hand that’ll show me the other side, no
But I didn’t want to build the land that has fed you your whole life, no
Don’t you find it funny? -Solange, Don’t You Wait, 2016

These lyrics off of A Seat at the Table paired with the artists’ sentiments on the MCA stage make it seem possible that real progress is within reach with an actual open mind, but as soon as these ideas exit the safe spaces and enter hostile territory, the idealism is confronted with slippery slope skepticism and problematic debate on many levels. If we sit around the table for dinner, how do we ensure that dessert is a time where everybody can accept and understand exactly what it is in order to move forward for real.

“…playing in Poland where there were two black people in the audience versus playing Afropunk (are) equally valid.”

This is where I see the race-in-music-paradigm shifting, Solange has the wherewithal to declare that she is: “Not wanting the expectation that all my work would center on race, on black identity, rather always through the lens of a black woman’s body. I’ve made it clear that I’m allowed to explore and expand. My alliance is not my responsibility. It’s who I am. That will always drive me in a very specific way.” When this shift occurs, it opens the door for ultimate inclusivity and empowerment…something lacking in the majority of not only music, but life in general.

Solange has never had to try to be anything for anyone. She is who she is — as organic as the air we breathe, and in doing so she has invented a whole new game that may not even have leagues, definitely not divisions. Expressing herself is her modus operandi. “We all really owe it to ourselves to explore whatever the hell we want.” Well damn.

“Our racism situation would be inconceivably more grim if these people, in the teeth of the most fantastic odds, did not continue to appear; but they were almost never, of course, to be found at the bargaining table.” -James Baldwin, The High Road to Destiny, 1970

A league of her own. A seat at the bargaining table’s head is where you can find Solange in her fantastically manicured playing field. This league is something to be extraordinarily excited about gong into the future…

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