Seeing Solange Knowles speak, I knew, would be a dream come true. With insightful questions posed by writer and essayist Britt Julious, Solange’s talk at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesday night instantly became mesmerizing, thought-provoking, and endlessly inspiring.
Knowles starting writing back in the fourth grade, and she “wanted to formulate a sonic landscape before even introducing lyrics into the project” for her acclaimed album, A Seat at the Table. This process of creating the sound alone took around three months because she wanted to create a frequency that could speak for her. She also wanted the album to have a thesis at its core before she moved into the process of songwriting.
Next, the lyrics came easy. “They were everyday feelings and confrontations that were staring me in the face,” Knowles explained effortlessly. However, these feelings and confrontations were in no way effortless themselves; rather, they provided a necessary look into the fabric of society today, as she said what absolutely needed to be said.
“F.U.B.U.” was influenced by an interaction Knowles had with the police during a stay in Marfa, Texas, which shocked both her and her friends she knew there. Claudia Rankine’s important novel, Citizen, explores racial aggressions and was also a strong influence for this song, to which Solange said, “Then I knew, this shit is for us.”
The album was released within four weeks after production ended—and when the release date was slated, she left her son with her mom and she and her husband went to Mexico for a week, where there was no internet, and no phone. She returned to hear of the acclaim, and was elated because it was messaging that needed to be shared: “This is really an album for my own exploration and self-care, because if I didn’t make it, I’d be in trouble.”
She dreamed, lived, and breathed the album—and today, she still does. The visual component of the album was also crucial to its development, with music videos released in tandem with the album.
“There’s so much language in the way you represent yourself visually, just the way you walk into a room,” Solange mused. She filmed herself dancing to songs on Apple’s Photobooth program, which allowed her to complete a practice of how she sees herself and how she wants the world to see her, too.
How does Solange control her own artistry, you ask? “The struggle is very real,” she noted with a laugh. It’s been almost a year to the date since the album was released, and since day one, she demanded that she was able to make music, have control over her body, and control over her work from top to bottom.
She declared that in the past she was afraid, because of her identity as a black woman, how she would be perceived with such intentions: “As black women, especially black women artists, we have to work twice as hard. We have to move faster, quicker, more gracefully than is demanded of anyone else. Now that I know that, it’s much more helpful for me to navigate through that.” But today, she takes full ownership of her artistry with no restraint, as she very well should.
In a vulnerable moment, she shared with the crowd that she cancelled the covershoot for a very reputable magazine because the magazine didn’t care about her input, from the location to her wardrobe to timing. Knowles is here to make her work authentically her, from the music videos she makes to the conversations she has to the places she chooses to invest her time in.
Her live shows are all her own, too. She played secret shows so she had room to experiment, and asked that attendees ditched their cellphones for true presence. “I want connection; I don’t want to entertain you,” she later notes. The work takes on the space you’re in, she added, so she adjusted her performance and all the aspects of it for things like SNL, Pitchfork, you name it. One of the toughest spaces was a gallery where the owner’s politics did not match her own, and instead of canceling like she was urged to, she stood tall. “You go to people who aren’t already hearing the message,” she noted defiantly.
So, what did she learn since A Seat at the Table was released? Infinite lessons: “Go hard or go home. I’ve also learned to shut up a lot more. And I think getting rid of Twitter was a lot of those moments for me…I’ve learned the power of when to speak, where to speak, who not to speak to, and when not to speak.”
And as for her artistry? “This is a black woman’s body, no matter what I do or where I am, if I’m in Sweden or Pluto, my work will always be through the lens of a black woman. It may not deal with identity, pain, or racism, but it will always be through the lens of a black woman’s body.” Bravo, Solange, bravo.