Culture Vulture: Solange Knowles

BY DEMETRIA OSEI-TUTU ’17

With the drop of her new album “A Seat at the Table,” her carefree artsy aesthetic (just look at her 2014 wedding photos) and the infamous elevator situation with Jay-Z, Solange has been on the rise for a while now. While she often is overshadowed by her larger-than-life sister Beyoncé, it’s clear that Solange has crafted a style and a sound that is all her own.

Born on June 24, 1986 in Houston, Texas, Solange Knowles had been singing backup and writing songs long before releasing her solo debut album “Solo Star,” at 16. According to Pitchfork, she then took a five year hiatus, during which she married Daniel Smith, had son Julez and got a divorce. She also dabbled in acting — many might recognize her as Camille from “Bring it On: All or Nothing” with co-star Hayden Panettiere. She also continued songwriting during that five-year hiatus, working not only on her second album, but also on songs for Beyoncé and the other members of Destiny’s Child, Kelly and Michelle.

Solange returned in 2008 with “Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams,” an album with a Motown '60s sound. That would be her last album under a mainstream record label such as Interscope; she released her groovy, experimental pop EP, “True,” independently in 2013. According to E!News, she later went on to create her own record label called Saints Records.

“A Seat at the Table,” her third studio album, is the first album with this record label (in conjunction with Columbia Records). The 21-track compilation is a soulful personal narrative of black identity and black struggles, specifically the identity and struggles of black women. Solange, as a black woman herself, provides a space where anger and frustration but also celebration of blackness are allowed.

Her exemplary songwriting skills are in the spotlight. Powerful tracks like “Don’t Touch My Hair,” “Cranes in the Sky,” “Mad” and the intimate interludes in which her family and friends discuss their past convey that narrative. It’s an auditory ‘chicken soup for the soul’ filled with airy falsettos, smooth vocals, synth beats and jazzy instruments. Solange has tweeted that this album is meant to “provoke healing and journey of self empowerment,” especially with the unending strings of unarmed black people killed by police brutality.

Solange has always been very vocal in her activism, using social media, such as Twitter, to speak out about the issues. Last summer, she tweeted: “Where can we be safe? Where can we be free? Where can we be black?” in response to the Charleston Church shooting. She also tweets about battling depression, her ADHD and most recently about a racist encounter she had at a concert.

Solange’s outspokenness contrasts with Beyoncé’s notably subtle creep toward public activism. While Beyoncé posts bail for Black Lives Matter protesters, Solange joined an Alton Sterling protest march in Baton Rouge during July.

In Solange’s interview with The FADER, she cites her parents for making her and Beyonce activists and a voice for black empowerment. Their father’s experience growing up in the South during segregation and then fighting for equal rights and integration during the Civil Rights Movement played a large role in his parenting. “I don’t think that there’s any way for your parents to go through of all that,” she said in the interview, “and you not have a certain level of sensitivity and consciousness to what’s happening around you and wanting to use your voice to reflect that.”

In a nation obsessed with Beyonce, we’re finally hearing Solange’s voice. As she sings in “God-Given Name,” from “Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams,” “I’m not her and never will be.” The sensational younger Knowles sister can only go up from here, shaping the worlds of music, fashion and activism in her own unique way. 

Mount Holyoke News

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