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solange presents blackness as a religion

May 6, 2019
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I knew there was a new religion brewing underneath Solange’s skin when she attended 2018’s MET Gala, wearing a headpiece — a dramatic, bellowing durag — that read “My God wears a durag” bedazzled by the hem. Florida water (if you know, you know) was in hand. A gold halo punctuated the look to be something fit for prophet and messiah-birthing.

Since the rollout of her new project, When I Get Home, these first impressions of where Solange’s headspace has been have only been affirmed. If A Seat At The Table was an external exercise, a message to the masses; a mellow protest. When I Get Home is deeply internal, to be marveled but not disturbed, a quiet prayer for something powerful but not something you give sermons about quite yet because this is about her. Which means when you experience the project, it should feel about you — the work should beg you to center yourself in it as you experience it. And the you — Black, in the world, searching for God — should know that God is you. And if that is too hard to arrive at because you feel as if you are helpless or too flawed to see yourself as God, then at least know this: God is like you. They wear a durag and say ‘nigga’ too. This is the type of power and affirmation that has motivated men to both build and burn churches, and Black people have seldom ever known such power despite always remaining powerful — be it out of our nature or out of survival.

If everything up to Wales Bonner’s Devotional Sound that included Solange’s first live performance since the release of her album, were quiet hints of intention, then the event on Thursday was more of a declaration. Sage, queer Black people in outfits that sparkled, Black women in garments that soaked up the energy in the room, candlelit, the art performance experience beginning in meditation, punctuated by poetry and essays, stories of collaboration with Gil Scott-Heron by Laraaji as he performed, and finally a chanting and grooving Solange.

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 07: Solange Knowles attends the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Tachman/Getty Images for Vogue)

She meditated on only three songs: “Things I Imagined” — the now-viral chant melts and oozes for quite the haunting experience — and “I’m A Witness,” as close to a gospel song that Solange has ever gotten to. “Taking on the light, taking on the light, taking on the light. I saw things I imagined, things I imagined.” In the setting of the New York City church, the lyrics took on a meaning universal command, an articulation of the same intentions that Black artists like Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra put into their work, perhaps just with more boom-kack.

“Rise, rise, rise.” Solange told us (through “Rise” from her pop-soul blockbuster, A Seat At The Table) to rise, motioning us to get up as she sang. She dived into the deepest, most abstract groove there. The most recognizable portion being the gun loading sounds found in the slithering, come-on/kiss-off “Way To The Show”. The song is romantic jam that has Solange singing “you can get it”; it’s flowery and suggestive. Later in the song, she returns to the “you can get it” come on, but with the added sounds of guns loading and unloading, the lyric changes meaning into a violent threat from a femme fatale. That’s Black femininity. That’s Blackness. And that’s surely Blackness as a religion.

If God wears durags, then of course the prophetess is strapped; the Holy Ghost is a dark skin nigga dripping in jewels as pictured in Solange’s film project for When I Get Home. In this religion, it’s obvious that the only way to take on the light is through Blackness. A Blackness so deep and pure that it appears purple to the eye and affirms you as royalty, even when the world says you are nothing.

Solange is playing at AFROPUNK Paris in July. Get tickets here!