Solange’s cataclysmic new album begins with a whisper. “Saw things I imagined” she echoes for nearly two minutes as synthesizers and vamping piano chords envelop her. Across the lithe, 39-minute length of When I Get Home, the artist’s voice floats over 19 tracks worth of psychedelic soul, cosmic jazz, and trap beats as she returns to her Houston roots.
Setting aside the overt politics of black feminism that turned its predecessor, A Seat at the Table, into an instant classic, Solange’s latest opus feels like the incense burning, chakra-aligning soul music we never knew we needed; a salve for A Seat at the Table’s soul-searing reflection on being a black woman in America. Echoing her sister Beyoncé’s preferred method for causing pop culture pandemonium, When I Get Home's surprise release on Friday set the table for Solange’s brave, beautiful new world, but it was the film released later that day that provided a bountiful feast for the senses that went far beyond the album’s sonic limits.
Clocking in at 33 minutes, the “interdisciplinary performance art film” feels like a lightning strike in reverse. Following in the thunderous footsteps of the album, the film’s visual companion is at once both a love letter to Solange’s artistic upbringing in Houston’s Third Ward and an electrifying vision for the future. The film itself should come as no surprise to even the most casual Solange fan; in the past few years, she’s staged performance art pieces for Marfa, Texas’ Chinati Foundation, Britain’s Tate Modern, New York’s Guggenheim Museum, and Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum.
What sets When I Get Home apart from her previous work is its full-bodied embrace of her Texas roots. Interpretive dances staged among the shadows of Houston’s downtown office buildings meld into shots of black cowboys riding their horses across the land; an Afrofuturist, cybernetic woman hauling a hunk of computer scraps; and a mind-bending animated scene directed by Jacolby Satterwhite.
With a scope as immense as Solange’s, it took a creative mind meld of artists from every discipline to bring her vision to life. As we continue our deep dive into the cultural-shaking impact of When I Get Home, we caught up with choreographers Maya Taylor and Andrew Winghart, photographer Cary Fagan, and stylist Mecca James-Williams to talk about how they helped shape the visual identity of Solange’s iconic new era.
Maya Taylor, Choreographer
You’ve done choreography and movement direction for Solange on "Scales (Marfa)," “Don't Touch My Hair,” “Cranes,” and other projects over the years. What was different about your work for When I Get Home?
After [two-and-a-half years] in intimate rehearsal spaces and working on set with her, you develop an understanding of her movement style, preferences, and ultimately develop trust that carries over into each creative process. If Solange asked for movement on the fly, I felt I had the experience to whip something up for her whether I had 15 minutes or a few hours to work on it. Choreography is always a trial and error process, so sometimes things worked and sometimes they didn't, but what a beautiful challenge to be able to accept.
You created original mudras for the film. How did that reference to Hindu and Buddhist ceremonial hand gestures weave into the project?
I was inspired by the incredible Dance of a Thousand Hands [and] how Solange naturally moves when she is free-styling — she is always articulating her hands in intricate ways. Mudras are such a powerful yet subtle way to seal and share energy. That moment when you see the line of powerful black women with their palms open in a simple gesture, as if to say, "I am here, this is me." It was one of my favorite moments to create.
Solange’s work is as much art as it is music. What drew you to work with her initially?
I truly believe that Solange's brain never stops. She is constantly researching, gathering inspiration, working on her music, visuals, and movement. I have seen her evolve every time I've worked with her and it continuously inspires me to do the same with my own work.
If you had to describe When I Get Home in one sentence, what would it be?
When I Get Home sounds like... FREEDOM.
Cary Fagan, Photographer
You and Solange grew up in Houston. How did the city influence you on this project?
I feel more inspired being back here now; I’m more in balance when I’m home. Going away for a while made me understand that Houston would always be a part of me. Once I matured into my own creativity, I realized that home is always going to be the impetus, the center of inspiration.
Walk us through your contribution to When I Get Home.
I shot all of the VHS and a few photos for her website; I think those are a great representation of my work. Honestly, the pictures speak for themselves — the process is genuine. I love to capture things naturally and in the moment.
What drew you to work with her initially?
The feeling, the emotion that our individual art evokes in our audience is very similar. I think being on this same frequency is what brought us together and in that sense, art attracts art.
Andrew Winghart, Artist
This is your first time working with Solange. Tell us how your collaboration came together.
To be completely honest I am not totally sure how she came across my work. I got a call from her manager that she wanted to meet to discuss an upcoming project. The first time I met her, she mentioned a few projects of mine by name and spoke a bit about what she was trying to accomplish. Then we watched this short film I had made earlier that year together (which was terrifying).
What drew you to working with her initially?
I was really inspired by A Seat at the Table's clarity, cohesion, and focus. We share a love of scale and large mass formations. Her vision seamlessly crosses disciplines and extends across boundaries.
You choreographed the large rodeo scene in Marfa, TX. What inspired you? What was your favorite aspect of the scene?
We took a lot of inspiration from the work of Busby Berkeley, who is an all-time favorite of mine. I love how geometric shapes inherently become imperfect when replicated by human bodies. There is something really special and beautiful in that imperfection.
Mecca James-Williams, Stylist
Way back in 2013, you interviewed five women behind Saint Heron. Tell me about that experience.
I have always connected with Solange and her artistry. Six years ago, I got the opportunity to interview the founding editors of Saint Heron for Opening Ceremony. It was a monumental moment for me, because I got to connect with five pillars of Solange’s platform. We discussed life, dreams, and culture. This moment was definitely full circle, and one that aligned when her team reached out for the When I Get Home project.
You’re a stylist on a lot of shoots featuring women of color, and Solange has been a huge advocate and influence for women of color. Tell us about your experience creating a visual identity with her for When I Get Home.
My work is a reflection of myself as a person, especially my editorial work. I’m a black woman and my identity and authentic connection to my culture definitely shaped how I approached the project. At the same time, this was my first personal encounter with Houston, Texas! It was such a bold, beautiful moment of discovery. The scope of black American culture is so diverse, and something that isn’t known or celebrated publicly enough. During this project, I saw myself, my family, my friends, and my community in every form in directly around me. Seeing so many black artists in different fields being celebrated and bringing their artistry to the table to create a big film, was the ultimate reward.
We were on the ground in Houston, Texas for the full album experience. Head here for a recap of everything that went down.