Solange, When I Get Home, review: An uplifting antidote to the painful reality black people face

Black America faces ever-escalating chaos, writes Kuba Shand-Baptiste. But Solange's blissed out new offering is a respite from those harsh realities

Kuba Shand-Baptiste
Friday 01 March 2019 15:26
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Home is where the heart is on the US songwriter’s fourth record
Home is where the heart is on the US songwriter’s fourth record

Solange Knowles has never been coy about the intent behind her music. Beautiful arrangements and seamless production notwithstanding, you get the sense, each time she drop a project, that it serves a distinct, zeitgeist-shifting purpose.

On her last album, it was to give voice to the endless frustration of being black in the world, to be punished on that basis, and to support the urge we all often feel to push back against it all.

This time, with When I Get Home, Solange has effectively given us permission to rest. Echoing similar movements seen in recent years, such as Fannie Sosa and niv Acosta’s “Black Power Naps” exhibition – which speaks to and hopes to remedy the socio-economic problem of higher rates of sleep deprivation among black people – the album has a calming, blissed-out quality, with its layers of sound and enveloping harmonies.

And where better to dream than from the comfort of your own digs? Whether it’s in the physical structure of a property that’s shaped you over the years, or in the familiar sounds of the music and culture that your people have crafted, there seems to be a call to return to what is familiar.

That much became clear when Solange previewed snippets of her project on BlackPlanet.com – a once popular early social media site used heavily almost exclusively among African Americans in the early Noughties – earlier this week.

And it’s even more apparent by the time the first interlude on the album – “S McGregor” – rolls around. The lightly chopped and screwed snippet features Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad – both, like Solange and her family, from the Third Ward area of Houston, and both in their own rites considered mothers of black America in many respects – reading their own mother Vivian Ayers’ poem “On Status”.

Taken from the last few lines in the poem:

“Now my heart knows no delight like a trip to the old home site/ Not for money would I scoff at a screen door hanging off/ So they’ve got no tall skyscrapers/ clowns in nightclubs cutting capers – it’s home/ The folk are warm, and most of all, I belong”, the words “I boarded a train, kissed all goodbye, and now my heart knows no delight”, ring out on the track, reiterating the healing nature of truly embracing where you hail from, even if the world tells you to disregard it as a symbol of degeneracy.

From then on, it’s a muted, but ever-swelling vessel of joy. There are melodies slow enough to sink you into a state of tranquility, and beats hard and strong enough to push you to sway and dance while that happens. From the breath of fresh air that is “Down With The Clique” to the hypnotic Metro Boomin-produced “Stay Flo”, this album feels more like an escapist dreamscape than a commercial body of work.

And in this climate, with the shadow of Trump and rising inequality looming over America, as well as the rest of the world, it couldn’t have come sooner.

When I Get Home is an album, yes. But ultimately, it’s a sleepy, uplifting antidote to the often painful reality that black people, particularly black Americans in Solange’s experience, have been increasingly facing in recent years. We’re in the midst of ever-escalating chaos. But here Solange has come, offering us a chance not just to rest, but to relish in that languidness.

Where 2016's A Seat At The Table commanded respect, action and validation to an extent, When I Get Home offers respite, support and hope. Not frilly, oversimplified hope predicated on the idea that naturally occurring change will save us, but a belief in the notion that even if things don’t get better right away, we still have ourselves, our music, the things that make us who we are, waiting for us at home.

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