Solange Delivers a Magical Performance at Atlanta’s Afropunk: Carnival of Consciousness
Solange headlined Afropunk: Carnival of Consciousness on Sunday (Oct. 16) in Atlanta, closing out a weekend a performances that included Willow Smith, Miguel, Flatbush Zombies, and Oshun among a slew of others.
Fueled by tracks from her acclaimed 2016 album, A Seat At The Table, Solange's work is just as relevant now as it was one year ago, perhaps even more so. The record is immersed in both black pain and consciousness, as it weaves a narrative that is enraged yet somehow healing. "It's a project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing,” Solange said upon the record's release in September 2016. A Seat At The Table is undoubtedly Solange at her most free artistically, and as a result, at her best.
While she decided to skip embarking on an official tour for the album, she's been heavy on the festival circuit, cultivating a live show that aesthetically matches the dense yet serene, spiritual vibe of the album. Defined by a gorgeous set with cinematic lighting, at times it appears as though she's performing in front of an African sunset, and at others, as if she's been whisked away to an Afro-futuristic planet. Solo's solo performances are have been part concert, part interpretive art, and last night was no different.
At one point during the set, she stopped to proclaim how happy she was to perform for "all of these regal, black faces," which of course, earned cheers from the mostly black audience. Solo's set provided a perfect backdrop for not only the Afropunk crowd of mostly black 20-somethings enthusiastically declaring their version of what being "free" means, but black folks in general, as we continue to press for our humanity in a society that seems intent on not only erasing it, but chastising us for bucking against that erasure.
If that's the place black America finds itself in, Atlanta is maybe a microcosm for that idea. In a couple of weeks, a new mayor will be sworn into office. A city that has long been a haven for black creatives, entrepreneurs and businesses, now grapples with the idea that it might possibly find itself with a white mayor for the first time since the 70s. As the city races toward complete gentrification inside of its perimeter at an alarming speed, it's fitting that one of the last sections of the city that remains mostly untouched thus far, housed 2017 Afropunk, which has built is brand on the inclusion and celebration of "free" black folk. It's a neighborhood just south of downtown, where houses that have stood for decades are strung closely together, one where kids play in the street and folks barbecue in the front yard. This night, the community seems to embrace the sprawling festival with its booming music and eclectically dressed attendees who are boastful about their blackness, coming out onto the cracked sidewalks to talk, or direct traffic to earn a few bucks from patrons parking in front of their houses.
Inside the festival grounds, the word "woke" blares overhead in neon lights, blinding in both its triteness and exaggerated honesty. Still, it somehow feels authentic. Underneath its light, attendees swarm about, receiving affirmation from one another, and a sense of solace and awareness that comes from being around other people who understand what it is to be young, black, with a longing and desire to just be free during one of the most suffocating, emotionally debilitating times in recent American history. They wear t-shirts that say things like "Black Girl Magic" or "Black AF," clinging to, and finding power in an identity that for too long has been overshadowed, devalued and then co-opted by whiteness. It's a thought thoroughly explored on Solange's A Seat At The Table on tracks like "Don't Touch My Hair" and "Mad."
"I Want Black People To Be Free" one dude's t-shirt reads, the earnest statement coming to life as Solo begins her set with with the ethereal "Rise." It's not a new sentiment, black folks wanting to be free. Yasiin Bey cried for it on "Umi Says." dead prez explored the concept with their 2000 debut album, Let's Get Free. Now, 17 years later, stic.man, who is in attendance for Solange's performance burying himself in the midst of the crowd, stands and witnesses another generation of artists expressing the same sentiment, with perhaps even more urgency. It is magical. It is sad. It's affecting and heavy. But it is also joyous.
Solange's set, much like her record, is passionate; defined by soft red lighting and choreography that seems almost spiritual in its intent, as if she's skated off the earth's surface and is grasping at some other future we've not yet full envisioned. It's Octavia Butler and Alvin Ailey, around the way cool housed in Egyptian pyramids. She's "looking for her glory" on "Weary," flawlessly hitting the yearning falsettos that punctuate the track. By the time she gets through the album's lead single, "Cranes In the Sky" it feels like a release, as people look up at the star-dotted, humid night sky, dodging their own metaphorical "cranes," with eyes that blink closed against the pain.
On "Mad" you start to feel why Solange so excited to perform here, in front of this black audience. We're always the only ones told to hide our anger when faced with America's constant slaughtering of any hope for justice. But no, it's okay for us to feel this way, Solange sometimes literally coos.
By the time she slides into "F.U.B.U"— which is an anthem of sorts for young black folks aiming to declare their spaces protected and safe from exploitation and erasure— the crowd is feeding completely from her energy, which is angsty yet controlled and somehow calming. "For us, this shit is for us... get so much from us, then forget us."
The song goes on, stops and comes back on again. The band is relishing in the idea that "this shit is for us," vibing with a crowd that really gets it. And in some ways, there's nothing more freeing than that.