In the Blog
The Soundscapes of Self Care
Cover Art: Solange Knowles
As we continue to slip down the slope of sociopolitical turbulence, it is an act of self-care to reserve space for art that reminds us of gold beneath the rubble. It is important to hold space for art that invites us to rise. In September 2016, singer-songwriter Solange Knowles graced us with her third studio album, A Seat at the Table, and as a result, affirmed my presence during a time where I felt invisible and disproportionate in my soul. The album welcomes listeners into a discussion where Solange unpacks themes resulting from the intersection of self and the outer world: the personal is unapologetically political. Through her work, Solange documents and narrates her experiences as a black woman in America, subsequently creating a platform for those who exist within the same reality. The album is autobiographical and it is universal, all while commanding visibility for the minds, souls and spirits of black lives.
The opening track is a short but sweet tune called Rise, originally written four years ago. The first time I heard it myself, I remember driving past Toronto’s waterfront as I neared the core of a city on an empty bus. Accompanied by the heartbeat of neo-soul synth, it left me feeling anew and invincible like a body of water frozen but still existing. The lyrics were medicine to the ignorance that surrounded me post-US election, medicine that was not meant to be swallowed down with a spoonful of sugar.
Rise lasts 90 seconds, showering listeners with words of a prayer. The song is composed of two choruses as seen in the image below. The first chorus is sung three times before gently melting into the second. In the first verse, Solange reaches out to her audience and sings: “Fall in your ways, so you can crumble / fall in your ways, so you can sleep at night / fall in your ways, so you can wake up and rise.” She focuses on the act of “fall[ing] in your ways,” which denotes something involuntary, an action that results from defeat. We are meant to crumble, we are meant to fall and we are meant to rest. Solange reminds us of the quiet revolution that occurs when we slow down and give ourselves permission to be vulnerable. On the other end of the spectrum, the second verse invites us to “walk with [our ways]”. Slowly, the song begins to evolve: there is a moment of silence, a beat that offers space for reflection and then the hum of a synthesizer appears suddenly, embodying the sound of an awakening. “Walk in your ways, so you won’t crumble (so you won’t crumble) / walk in your ways, so you can sleep at night / walk in your ways, so you will wake up and rise.” Walking is an act that suggests more control than falling. To walk is to be content, moving with the tide as opposed to running away from it. The idea of movement is crucial here once you notice how the lyrics mirror the common idea of being stuck in your ways. Solange calls for action, suggesting that there is a beauty in allowing ourselves a hiatus to breathe and be isolated from everyday commotions, which is defiance and protest. The contrast of the choruses raises an empowering point: we are the sum of our highs and our lows.
Structurally, the form of Rise reflects its message. Through the use of binaries and anaphora, it is reminiscent of political speeches that often turn to repetition in order to increase their effectiveness. The repetition reflects the cyclical nature of our daily lives, infusing our minds with familiarity. The subject matter of the album is heavy as it is laced with the happenings of society. Thematically, the album functions as both a diary and a textbook, speaking earnestly of the world from Solange’s perspective. In an interview with The Fader, Solange touched on the duality of how she experiences what surrounds her:
“There are a lot of moments in my life where I have a lot of care. I have a lot of things to think about and a lot of things that I’m managing and trying to navigate through. And then there are some moments when I feel free as fuck, and I feel completely weightless and at peace. Those are both the complexities of being a woman of color, and I celebrate both of those. They are both who I am and they need each other to exist.”
Who is allowed to be vulnerable? Who is allowed to rest in the midst of the madness? In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s passing, I felt words getting caught in my throat when speaking of the matter. I struggled to translate my emotions into something coherent and I felt ashamed for sinking beneath my pain. It became difficult to rest but it also felt difficult to do anything else. I silenced myself and was unable to heal. What is healing? What love did I deserve in these moments of insecurity and confusion? In 1988, black writer and feminist Audre Lorde wrote in her book, A Burst of Light, that “[self-care] is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 28 years later and Solange has prepared a new mantra that holds the same philosophy. Despite her fame, Knowles has always carved space for conversation. She handles the weight of her celebrity with grace and is never ashamed to challenge what surrounds her. A Seat at the Table gives a voice to those who are unable to stand at the forefront of their own narratives. It reminds us again of the power in self-preservation.
When we give ourselves permission to fall, to crumble and to rise, we start fires. Blazing trails towards new worlds bereft of the horrors that homogenize the one we inhabit. We alarm the oppressive forces that try to define our trauma and our healing. There is terror and risk to being absolutely still in the face of ignorance, discrimination and inequality but when we hold everything we believe in close to our hearts we come across the secret powers of solitude. Listen to your body, listen to your mind and listen to your spirit. Rise is the spark to a flame, an invitation to move with your pain, move with your joy and to validate every emotion that flows through your veins.
Image of Jessica Felicity
About Jessica Felicity
Jessica Felicity is a Hamilton based writer and founder of Everything is Everything, an emerging collective that aims to empower youth through multidisciplinary art forms. She is currently in her third year studying English at Ryerson University.