listen to solange's powerful lecture about prince and protest
The visionary behind 2016’s best album spoke at the “Blackstar Rising & The Purple Reign: Celebrating the Legacies of David Bowie and Prince” symposium about what activism looks like in pop music today.
A Seat at the Table, Photography Carlota Guerrero
Over the weekend, Yale hosted a symposium of dreams. Titled "Blackstar Rising & The Purple Reign: Celebrating the Legacies of David Bowie and Prince," the four-day series of conversations, conferences, and even a karaoke session explored the pair of icons' lives and work from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints — among them spirituality, gender, and the politics of performance. Leading these conversations were academics, artists, journalists, and some particularly familiar faces: Questlove and Kimbra DJ-ed a dual Prince and Bowie set to open the event, while TV on the Radio closed it with a concert (including a cover of 'Nothing Compares 2 U'). Solange also dropped by, but not for a performance.
The pop luminary discussed activism in popular music with Yale professor Daphne Brooks. Their hour-long conversation — which is now available to stream — unpacked the layers of A Seat at the Table, Solange's gripping record that earned Pitchfork's Best Album of the Year (making her the first solo female artist to ever earn the website's top spot). Solange discussed the challenges she faces in performing the record's songs live, the influence of black cinema on her visuals (specifically, The Wiz), and Prince's legacy.
"You millennials, it's time to get woke on Prince!" said Brooks, opening the keynote. "His rich and complex forms of collaborations with black female artists over the years, including another member of the Knowles family, who's worked closely with him," Brooks added, referring to Beyoncé's 2004 Grammy performance with the Purple One. Introducing the younger Knowles, Brooks called Solange, "Someone whom we see as carrying forward Prince as well as David Bowie's avant-gardism, as urgent, necessary, multifaceted, black feminist sonic activism. Someone who has delivered some of the most uniquely stirring and gripping forms of social critique in pop music in recent memory. An artist whose galvanizing statements about the nature of black freedom, black movement, and black imagination on the move have quickly become the soundtrack to our current moment of ongoing resistance and insurgent struggle."
Solange elaborated about that resistance later in the talk, when discussing the nature of protest art and music in today's climate. "I definitely created this album as protest music," Knowles said to the latter point. "I am resisting, I am objecting, I am refusing. And in its most simple way, protest is a statement of objection. There were so many things that I fought against through this album, in hopes really for me to find healing and solace." Expounding on that struggle and process, Solange spoke about the daily microaggressions artists of color face in a music industry "built off of the backs of black people" but limited by established rules. "With that came a lot of anger, and rage, and frustration," Knowles explained. "And I think of artists like Prince, who from day one burned that handbook and really fought for ownership in a way that had not ever been done."
The entire conversation is revealing, powerful, and well worth the lesson. Listen in full here.
Text Emily Manning