Last night eager and cold fans lined up outside of the Levinson Auditorium of Yale Law School in New Haven to see Solange speak with Professor Daphne Brooks in a keynote discussion titled “Everybody Still Wants to Fly”: Activism in Pop from Prince to Solange. The event was free and open to the public but sold out with a sold out wait list.
The event opened with a round table discussion on Prince and David Bowie. The discussion included musicians and scholars: Alan Light, author of Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain; Kandia Crazy Horse, author of Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock ‘n Roll and was moderated by Sherae Rimpsey, Lecturer in Liberal Arts, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
I had no idea David Bowie was so woke! Prof. Brooks discussed how Bowie was a full-time activist. We watched his infamous interview with Mark Goodman. The conversation shifted to Prince. They showed exclusive Prince performance clips including Housequake, It’s Gonna be a Beautiful Night and If I was Your Girlfriend. As a millennial I only knew Prince’s major hits but I hadn’t experienced the splendor of his live performances. I now have a newfound appreciation of the complexities of his work. Both of these artists were before my time, but I realize I have some catching up to do.
Solange began speaking around 10:30pm and the late night was worth it. I absolutely loved Solange’s album “A Seat at the Table” (my review here) For black women, and men, it was like a diary written by someone else who just knows what the collective conscious is feeling. Touching on mental health and self-care in a way that isn’t usually discussed in R&B. If you’d like to hear the entire audio stream of Daphne Brooks and Solange, click here.
For 90 minutes Solange spoke graciously and candidly about her experience creating the record. She mentioned that she is even a little uncomfortable performing it because it is so personal. She worries how it is going to translate as a live performance. Well, if her performance on the Tonight Show is any indication I say it translates perfectly. She mentions she inserts pauses as to say “do you see me?” She understands this record is a private experience for many listeners. Enjoying it in the company of others is a different experience. I prefer to listen to it alone like I am reading my diary, because that is what it feels like. She mentioned that many other people feel that way, but that doesn’t prevent her from finding ways to connect to her audience through live performances. She is currently working on her tour for A Seat.
She spoke about her artistic journey. Her first two albums didn’t really represent her. She wanted to make a Sade-esque album at the age of 15 and the labels laughed at her, the audience laughed too. So she experimented with different styles until she realized that she had to create her own lane. Create her own space. She wanted this album to speak to black women and weave a thread of connectivity. And she succeeded.
Prof. Brooks posed the question “Do you think your music is protest music?” the answer was yes. When I think of protest music I think of Billie Holiday “Strange Fruit” and Nina Simone “Mississippi Goddam” Protest music is also “Mad” and “Don’t Touch My Hair.”She is defying expectations about what black women can sing about. She said, and I quote
“Why do our songs always have to be about a nigga?”
That got many snaps from the audience. Nothing against love songs, because love is awesome. But why is it that women sing primarily about love and men? There are so many other noteworthy topics. I think about the conversations I have with friends and not many of them are about romance. At least not the way the radio portrays. Why doesn’t our music represent more of who we really are?
Overall it was an inspiring and eye opening evening of pop culture analysis. As a music lover it was amazing to be around intellectuals who are fully immersed in the study of music and pop culture. Daphne Brooks organized an outstanding program with interesting dialogue surrounding black art and theater. It made me miss being a student. It also got me thinking about how I can create my own space within m Solange was a gracious guest speaker who was visibly humbled by the crowd’s outpouring love for her. Is it possible to love her even more?