Houston’s crisp winds weren’t felt inside of S.H.A.P.E. (Self-Help for African People through Education) Community Center, where Solange hosted a special screening for the visual pairing to her latest album, When I Get Home on Sunday (March 3). It was one of nine locations, with the others being staples across Third Ward, that painted the singer-songwriter’s Southern identity. But this room, coated in green light, was warm and inviting as we waited to view the film alongside the album’s muses and collaborators like Solange’s mother Tina Knowles-Lawson, husband and filmmaker Alan Ferguson, singers Cassie and Abra as well as Houston legends Bun B, Devin the Dude and Slim Thug.
Before connecting images of a crystalized Holy Ghost or black cowboys to the album, When I Get Home sounds inevitably personal, with Solo reminding us through slow sonic drawls and gentle nayhoos why her city enriches her with love, light and purpose.
“I know that at any given time of my life I can come back here to Houston, to Third Ward and have these anchors that really lift me up and that’s what I did,” she said about the album’s skeleton. As her story goes, the creative quietly rented a house in Wichita where she reunited with her old jazz band and go-to collaborators like drummer John Keith to create a sonic elixir custom made for her. Stevie Wonder’s daring Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants, Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra Arkestra helped create her vision along with an eclectic finsta (fake Instagram page that shares what you really want to post) page and group chats with friends.
“Certain things that might’ve been mundane to me visually started to really enrich me and enrich my spirit,” she said about coming home again as other guests like A$AP Ferg and Metro Boomin looked on. “I think [that] just growing up in Texas is such a spirited place, any given time of day you can see and experience something that’s so unique and so grounded in our culture here.”
— Desi (@Desire_Renee) March 4, 2019
The arrival of Solange’s When I Get Home on Friday (March 1) felt similar to the days of First Fridays at The Brooklyn Museum. Attendees would dress to the sevens (because we can’t afford nines) and head to a place with thousands of years worth of history just to pose in front of a Melvin Edwards sculptures for social stimuli. Before cuts like “Dreams” or “Almeda” could get their rightful spins, the album was put on social media’s art gallery pedestal as many deemed the album a perfect collection of songs that spoke to blackness in womanhood today.
Solange Knowles is not an aesthetic you can wear when it’s time to be in your ethereal artsy bag.
Its immediate declarations prevented listeners from collecting the gems that lie between every percussion, interlude and falsetto the artist-curated for an album that’s meant to be studied over a strong period of time, not a weekend or 140 characters.
“I really want to make work to be discovered you know, 50 years from now,” she explains. “Building that arena [in the film] was really about leaving an imprint and making my stamp on the world in 50 years. It’s how I envisioned this rodeo and these space where black bodies can unite and make sculptures out of their space and out of their souls. It’s one thing to imagine it and another thing to manifest it and I think so much of the album is just about that.”
The joy and importance of repetition is often attributed with building stronger connections, habits and beings. It’s permeated throughout the entire album, including the opener, “Things I Imagined.” As the singer enjoyed the success of her critically acclaimed album A Seat The Table, she was also met with an unexpected autonomic disorder, putting a cog in how she viewed her creative process and her body. Instead of just making music, the artist expressed her yearning to feel the music.
“It’s coming into my spirit and coming into my body and so much of this album, this project and this film was about coming into my body and the things I had to do to reinforce my spirit,” she said of the songs that were nearly 20 minutes long and done in one take. “It’s one thing to think with your spirit but it’s another to actually live it through your body.”
When I Get Home may not have breakaway bops as many expected, but Solange’s ability prioritize her legacy over instant gratification trumps this. Each song gives context to the next and those inspired by the album have already uploaded chopped and screwed versions of “Almeda” to SoundCloud while others have taken the time to go back and study the climatic repetitive joy in songs like “Earth’s Creation” by Stevie Wonder. Solange Knowles is not an aesthetic you can wear when it’s time to be in your ethereal artsy bag. Her marriage of funk, jazz, soul and synth bliss creates yet another project worth studying and a city worth uncovering.