Rhythm, Roots & Research - Part VI

upcoming & remarkable - a special series by talents on the rise

Hi ladies, welcome back! In today’s edition of “Rhythm, Roots & Research” we will dive into the first case study: Solange Knowles, her repertoire and her identity. If you haven't read part I to V click here to catch up.



To this point, I have created a framework in which the two case studies which will be discussed, will be placed. We will research the identities hidden in contemporary music, coming from female artists with a multicultural background and link these to the three researched identities. This first case study will be all about the American female singer/songwriter, Solange Knowles.

Solange was born in Houston, Texas, and has often been placed by the media in the shadow of her older sister Beyoncé Knowles. However throughout the years the singer/songwriter found her own musical identity. With her most recent and controversial album “A Seat at the Table” (September 30, 2016) Solange put herself on the map once and for all. The album offers interesting and refreshing insights on being a black woman in a white man’s world.

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A Seat At The Table

The album was received as a “masterpiece” by many critics and as “controversial” by others. “A Seat At The Table” was nothing like Solange’s prior work. The 21-track record is partly a personal memoir, partly a cultural analysis, and thoroughly meant as a remedy for the intergenerational traumas of her own past and those of the United States. During the four-year recording process, Solange aimed to express all of her pain, anger, sadness and cynicism into one album. Solange explains in an interview with online platform The Fader, the album was intended to help people heal. Solange stated her motivation as follows:

“I wanted the album to have those moments of grief, and being able to be angry and to express rage, and trying to figure out how to cope in those moments. I also wanted it to make people feel empowered and [that] in the midst of all of this we can still dream, and uplift, and laugh like we always have. […] We, as black people, have historically not been presented as regal beings in society” (The Fader, 2017).



This statement is crucial in analyzing how Solange Knowles identifies herself with regard to her album. Her statement relates perfectly to my research: what sort of female, black identities are articulated in present-day music and how do African American women negotiate the emotions related to blackness through music?

“I Am a Proud Black Feminist and Womanist” Solange Knowles is known to drop powerful statements when it comes to gender and race. In an online interview with the magazine and online platform Teen Vogue(2015) she identifies herself as follows: “I Am a Proud Black Feminist and Womanist”. Whereas big sister Beyoncé Knowles declares herself a feminist, too, and describes this feminist part of her as a different persona – called “Sasha Fierce” on stage – Solange presents herself as a more subtle and modest version of the “fierce” alter ego of her sister. Solange doesn't hold back when it comes to calling herself a feminist. Nevertheless, she does admit that there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to the inclusion of women of color within the feminist movement. This is probably the reason why Solange uses the term “womanist”.



The term “womanist” was created as a term that covered feminists of color, the double marginalized group that was being left out from the original feminist movement initially. Professor and researcher Janell Hobson (2013) argues that this rejection of the term “feminist” within the environment of women of color, stems from the ancient tradition of the exclusion of women of color from the dominant points of view within feminism. What's interesting is that Solange makes a distinction between the two terms, but identifies herself as both a feminist and a womanist. Solange confirmed this in an interview with Teen Vogue in 2015: 

I want women’s rights to be equally honored, and uplifted, and heard… but I want to see us fighting the fight for all women – women of color, our LGBTQ sisters, our Muslim sisters. I want to see millions of us marching out there for our rights, and I want to see us out there marching for the rights of women like Dajerria Becton, who was body-slammed by a cop while she was in her swimsuit for simply existing as a young, vocal black girl. I think we are inching closer and closer there, and for that, I am very proud.
— Solange KNowles

Looking at her album, we can discover at least one of the previously discussed identities: the revolutionary attitude.



Journalist Ashley C. Ford describes in an extensive review of the album, that the music triggers a couple of things within her. Firstly, Solange’s music is mirroring the emotional journey Ford herself experiences as a black woman. Solange's music is thus perceived as a point of recognition. Secondly, the lyrics of the songs on the album give Ford a sense of empowerment. The lyrics encourage Ford to continue growing as a black woman and to never deny her background. Thirdly, the songs trigger actions. In Ford’s case the lyrics make her feel like she is able to do something about the current issues she faces with regard to black womanhood. All of these perceptions, fit in perfectly in the description of the revolutionary attitude described in part IV of RRR. Ford concludes that Solange’s music has been offering a breakthrough when it comes to race and gender politics: she describes Solange as a “young black woman who was vocal about oppression, flawed strength, and self-worth”.

If you are curious to find out how Giovanca Ostiana fits into the framework of my research? Stay tuned for RRR part VII next week.

- Maxime


BloG: Maxime Ten Brinke | Photography: Shenelva Booij | Creative Direction: Shenelva Booij