afropounk paris: spellbound by solange
July 16, 2019
I forgot to speak French. When I turned to the people next to me to share in my excitement during Solange’s AFROPUNK Paris set this past Sunday night — with exclamations like “This is incredible!” and “Yo, she is fucking killing it!” — for a moment, I forgot that I was in France. The people near me spoke French and a little broken English but we didn’t have to be verbally fluent with each other to share in the feeling of the moment. The energy in the room at La Seine Musicale was electric, and Solange Knowles was the dynamo on stage generating it.
Solo’s show was part-performance art, part-party, and part-sermon: she explained how as a young girl going to church camp she witnessed people overcome by the Spirit and how it frightened her. But as she grew older, wiser, and more in tune with herself, she began to listen and to channel this power speaking through her, processing this energy into sound and movement. With an elaborate set that included strobe lights, platforms and stairs, and an enclosure for her drummer, Solange and company radiated sexuality, joy, defiance, healing, and raw power.
A gracious and grateful host, Solo belted out songs like “FUBU” with a fervor reserved for spaces like this one, filled with people who could relate to it. The words “This shit is for US!” had to have hit different for her as she looked out at sea of Brown people of all sizes, shapes and shades with the knowledge that these messages were meant to affirm and strengthen them. She explained the power of manifestation and how she propelled herself with the mantra of “Things I Imagined”
Solange’s voice was pitch perfect and emotive. Her choreography was simple, yet striking. She, her band and dancers mixed the synchronized interpretive dance movements we’d seen in videos like “Don’t Touch My Hair” with moments of impromptu child-like expression that had her breaking out into fits of hair-tossing and dropping to her knees, to literally get down on the floor like on “Stay Flo.” This was a celebration of Blackness and Black femininity, as she surprised us with a dancer who, atop the highest platform on the stage, literally elevated twerking to the level of high art. Solo and her dancers strutted across the stage, exuding sexuality and power. The brass players in her band, with their coordinated steps exemplifying that special brand of Black cool present in the jazz musicians of days past.
I turned to my left and my right to see clusters of Black women and men getting their LIVES, singing along to “Cranes In The Sky” like it soundtracked their own struggle to find happiness in a world that seems bent on snatching it away. I smiled ear to ear and looked at Brown faces that smiled back in. This is what it means to be present. Then Solange asked the thousands of people in the audience to breathe in the moment. To leave our phones in our pockets and purses just for a few minutes so that we could have some fun, then she launched into her hit “Losing You” inciting a revelry in the crowd.
The performance marked the culmination of all the good vibes of AFROPUNK Paris, and the smiling Brown faces of strangers all of a sudden seemed familiar. No, more than that, familial. We felt connected to one another, to the Diaspora and of course to the woman on stage — a feeling like no other.
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