Being the youngest sister in a musical family can be a challenge. You can ask Janet Jackson,Pat Sylvers DeRusso. And today it would be Solange Knowles. Stereotypically she has always tended to be in Beyonce’s better promoted performance shadow-focusing on songwriting and musicianship to a stronger degree over Beyonce’s celebrity orientations. Sadly,Solange has entered into a controversy recently that could have the potential to spoil her strong reputation as a funky soul singer/songwriter. Personally? I feel these two factors which were just mentioned are interrelated. Yet during the course of this week as the matter involving her and her sisters marriage,which I refuse to get into here,has unfolded it seemed appropriate to do my own part to focus on Solange’s important musical accomplishments as opposed to any yellow journalism that currently follows behind her. And one of the best ways to do this is from a song she wrote and performed with her creative partner Dev Hynes in late 2012 called “Losing You”.
The song itself opens up with a swelling cornucopia of heavy African percussion,conga and bongo drums keeping time in a very polyrhythmic fashion to a very strident 4/4 “on the floor” style post disco beat. Weaving within this is an usual sound,perhaps percussion or a keyboard,that sounds something like a cross between children at play or tweeting birds. It has a very strong Brazilian effect either way. After a couple refrains of this a polyphonic synthesizer comes into the song bringing the melody. It’s soon joined by a thick,phat and popping bass line and another synthesizer part providing an accent that has the sound of a glistening,ringing bell. Over this insistent groove Solange sings in her rich,expressive yet low key voice about breaking up with a lover who seems to be insisting that she is entirely at fault in the situation. By the end,she is still unsure. And the fact that instrumentation stays on the one so insistently illustrates this concept.
Musically speaking,this song is a vital extension on the dance sound Madonna had on her earliest hits-with Mtume’s Reggie Lucas involved. This songs particular variation on the boogie funk sound of the early 80’s does mirror a time when even MTV had to refer to Madonna’s early disco/funk/boogie hits as being “rock” to spike interests. What Solange and Dev add to this mix is heavily layered Afro-Latin percussion and effects-which were a huge part of disco era late 70’s funk as well. By her own admission Solange has devoted herself to carrying on in a slickly produced instrumental variety of funk/soul music from the late 70’s/early 80’s as the basis for her sound. And doing so by her own admittance due to the proliferation of “R&B-gone-electronic dance music tracks” and that it was “remarkable for what it suggests about the direction of pop music right now”.
Shooting the video in the shanty-like township of Lango in Cape Town,South Africa during her photo shoot for Elle magazine added to the strong sense of Afro Futurism that Solange is suggesting in the song. Especially with the extra’s decked out in the manner of Afrocentric fashionista’s and engaging in general friendly farce and horseplay with her. Solange Knowles is an important talent in terms of the live instrumental funk revival. And I fully support her musical and personal position in hypothetical concert with her more commercially popular sister. She represents one head of a two headed family hydra who both bring to mind different sides of the post feminist black female iconoclast. And with Solange zeroing in more on her instrumental musical concept? She surely has a strong future ahead of her.