Finally, some good came from surfing the Internet mid-sentence. Solange Knowles was visiting town in support of her striking new album, A Seat at the Table. This Vancouver leg of her Scales museum tour would feature three concerts of just 105 people each – first come, first served. Yes. Buy. Check and erase calendar later.
With A Seat at the Table, Solange earned the #1 spot on the Billboard 200. ‘It’s a fantastic-sounding LP,’ Rolling Stone says, ‘that takes sonic cues from dusty soul sides while sounding as timely as a freshly sent tweet.’ ‘It walks softly, speaks radically.’
Solange describes her album as ‘a project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing.’ In writing the album, she moved to New Iberia, Louisiana – home to the Lawson family until Solange’s maternal grandfather was trapped in a salt mine, nearly left to die, then run out of town after a Molotov cocktail was tossed into his home.
“The idea of having a family,” Knowles says, ”setting your roots down and then having to leave with nothing and rebuild is very powerful to me. Going back there as their granddaughter and being able to tell their story, my mom’s story, my dad’s story, and my story – that meant a lot to me.”
Solange’s Scales performance piece was composed and choreographed by her. All proceeds in Vancouver would go to the Atira Women’s Resource Society, a non-profit dedicated to providing support and safe housing for children and women who have been victims of violence. Some were upset that the Vancouver event was taking place at Chinatown’s Rennie Museum, founded by real-estate developer Bob Rennie. In response, Solange, a role model to many activists, invited members of Black Lives Matter to her concert and met with them after to discuss their work.
The multiethnic crowd lining up on East Pender was abuzz with this unique opportunity: grandmothers, fathers, teens, toddlers. After checking in our phones, we climbed upstairs to a white-walled room, the two p.m. sun streaming in through six overhead skylights. “It’s important to me to do this in daylight,” Solange later explained. She likes to look into faces and connect with people through music.
We sat cross-legged on the floor, staring at the simple set: drums and an electronic keyboard. In such an intimate setting, the crowd acted as one. When they keyed up Stevie Wonder – always a good sign – the excited chatter ramped up. When the lights dimmed, we fell quiet, soaking up the peaceful museum setting.
It was an organ march that set the afternoon off. First came John Key for drums, Reshard Baham for keyboards, Charles Lumar II with his bass. Out next was Adam DeWalt for the trumpet and Jeremy Phipps for the trombone. The horn players came in dancing with singers Franchelle Lucas, Isadora Mendez-Scott and, of course, Solange.
Given Solange’s interest in high fashion, it is no surprise that all were artfully turned-out: Solange in a blue jumpsuit, the others in shades of ivory and beige – Phillip Lim, Issey Miyake.
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
By the end of the first stanza, a few things were immediately clear:
i. Solange Knowles is great live – a gifted musician with a multi-faceted voice and an impeccable sense of timing.
ii. She has surrounded herself with skilled musicians and vocalists.
iii. Knowles, Mendez-Scott and Lucas are expressive dancers. Way back when, Solange used to dance backup for Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child. Her initial goal had been to study dance at Julliard before she was felled by a knee injury. Those who have never seen Solange perform her music might have seen her dance – at one point for Rihanna! – in Bring it On: All or Nothing.
iv. To experience such talent in such an intimate setting is emotional. As Solange locked eyes around the room, people were riveted – wiping their own eyes, squeezing each other’s hands.
Solange was vulnerable and generous in scraping deep and giving of herself. Whether letting out a belly scream or smiling with a bopping audience member, her performance felt authentic. During F.U.B.U, she walked around the small space, sitting with and singing to audience members while the band drove a saucy backbeat.
Sometimes we don’t trust
This sh*t is for us
Knowles created musical bridges, so we weren’t tempted to break the spell by clapping between songs. That said, by the time she made it back to the stage after F.U.B.U, we couldn’t help but let out a roar of approval.
It was a physical show for the performers. Forty-five minutes in, Knowles, Lucas and Mendez- Scott were doing a round of artful jumping jacks that would satisfy the meanest personal trainer.
When Solange bowed at the end of the show, we jumped up to applaud her and the co-performers whom she so energetically celebrated, one by one. The clapping stayed strong as Solange left the stage right through to when she returned. Scales, she told us, is a piece that “allows me to use my voice and body as protest.”
As Solange took a moment to celebrate the passion of the diverse crowd, a young black girl approached her with flowers. “You’re going to make me cry!” Knowles said. “You are the reason I do this.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton