Published Mar 13, 2019"I don't know who John Wayne is, I don't know what his story is," a white cowboy boot-wearing Solange Knowles laughs following an Apple Music and BlackPlanet live-stream of her self-directed film, When I Get Home, in Houston; "I really don't."
Sitting down with writer and cultural critic Antwaun Sargent at the city's SHAPE Community Center (Self-Help for African People through Education), where Solange notes she used to come to for "summer camps," the two are conversing about black cowboys, the Third Ward and production — elements that make up her latest album, which shares a name with the film.
"I knew about a year and a half ago [that] it would be really, really important to me to tell a story about black cowboys. I feel so privilege to meet so many of these cowboys and hear their stories and see them pray before they go in the bull ring, and see what they're willing to do to their bodies for the sake of entertainment — which is something I can relate to."
To debut the 33-minute film, Solange hand-selected nine locations throughout Houston, all of which held significant to both her past and present life.
One of those locations was Third Ward's biggest landmark, Emancipation Park, which was the only park opened to the black community during Jim Crow, and also where a shootout happened between the Black Panther Party and the Houston Police Department in July, 1970.
Another was the Unity National Bank, Texas's first and only black-owned bank, where Solange [reportedly] has her own financial accounts. In tandem with financial ownership, a film screening also took place at Vita Mutari Salon, a beauty salon once owned by her mother Tina Knowles-Lawson for two decades.
"To have something out in the world that feels like a true reflection of who I am, the things that I love to listen to, the things that I love to experience as sort of a snapshot of myself at this present time... that feels so good," she continued in the post-screening interview.
Spaces such as the Ensemble Theatre, which has been celebrating African-American theatre since 1976, and Project Row Houses, a development of shotgun houses dedicated to arts, were more obvious choices for the screening, but reflected the Houston arts community that influenced Solange's journey to this album.
A lesser obvious option was Texan Tire & Wheel, which is built upon Houston slab (car) culture.
"Paul Wall picked me up in a slab tonight!," she cheerfully laughed at the end of the conversation. It's a reminder that songs like "My Skin My Logo" move beyond words and aesthetics.
Visual aesthetics, after all, only represent one element of the overall picture of When I Get Home — they also directly inform the album's production, largely influenced by the late Houston legend, producer and music innovator DJ Screw. Solange rented a "house in Third Ward," where she says she created a space reminiscent of her high school jazz band.
"The interesting thing about the evolution of this album is that I started to work on it while still touring. I approached this in many ways as a jazz album," she says. "I think repetition at this place in my life has given me a lot of indigent to my spirit, my body and my mind and realign those things. Repetition is a really strong way to reinforce those mantras."
Taking as long as "three days to EQ" her synths, Solange carefully crafted the production of this album based on sonic feeling and collaboration. Nuance, experimentation and freedom were catalysts for the album.
"I went back to that place of being able to use improv as the foundation of my work," she says. "The best for me is to invite people into the space and say 'do you.' It could be six hours before I hear the one ad-lib or the one thing where I'll think, 'Okay, that is how I can extend this into an expression of what I want to achieve.
Describing herself as an artist who is "always caught in this place between the past and the future," and one that rarely thinks about the present, Solange describes the album and film as one that is heavily rooted in her body and feelings.
"It's one thing to think with your spirit, but it's another to live it through your body," she states. "With A Seat at the Table I had so much to say, and with this album, I had so much to feel. Words would have been reductive to what I needed to feel and express. It's in the sonics for me.
"I think specifically for this project and the film, I was just so excited for the Renaissance of young black Texas. I know at any time in my life I can come back here to Houston, to Third Ward, and have these anchors that really lift me up."
Giving thanks to attendees in the room, from her family and husband to Paul Wall and Bun B, as well as the Stetson-wearing cowboys who showed up in droves, Solange ended the night with a palpable sense of relief — one that can only be experienced at home.
"This is who I am. I don't even have to say it or express it — it's just a part of me, it'll always be in my work."
Solange's When I Get Home is out now.