Why the World Needs to Hear New Music from Solange: A Letter from a Tuba Player

Solange © Max Hirschberger
Solange © Max Hirschberger
Nearly a month after Solange’s unconventional news, tuba players are biting their nails in anticipation for new music from the R&B superstar.
Stream: “Way to the Show” – Solange

After nearly five years of silence, Harper’s Bazaar released an interview with R&B ‘Supernova’ Solange.

In the midst of discussing new music, the artist revealed, “I’ve started writing music for the tuba, and I am trying to talk myself into releasing it, but I can only imagine the eye rolls from people…,” a comment which piqued the interest of the music community at large.

Well, people. Don’t fret and please don’t roll your eyes because this news is much more exciting than you may think! The prospect of new music from a beloved artist is always something to look forward to but I want to explain why this is a great time for Solange to release an experimental album, and why the tuba is the right instrument to do it with.

Solange © Max Hirschberger
Solange © Max Hirschberger

Barely five months removed from Andre 3000’s curveball of an ambient flute album, it’s not like seeing an artist deviate from “their genre” is anything new.

If nothing else, Solange’s excursion into Tuba World could continue to open the door of possibilities for the hefty brass instrument and for music artists in general. Solange could be remembered as a trailblazer whose creativity could help mark the 2020s as an era of artists who are brave enough to expand the horizons of their skillset.

But is the tuba the right instrument for Solange to do this with? In short, the answer is an overwhelming yes.

But isn’t it just a 35-lb piece of metal meant for comic relief?

Though it often falls victim to its cartoonish stereotypes, musicians have been giving the tuba a home in a wide array of musical settings for well over a century – and most of which don’t include the sporting of Lederhosen. Here’s why the tuba offers so much more than its inherently negative preconceptions.

Patented in 1865, the tuba has a rich musical lineage. Notable classical composers the likes of Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Stravinsky brought the tuba into the orchestral setting with prominent solos and melodic passages. John Williams film scores from Star Wars, Home Alone, and the ICONIC lick from Jaws brought the tuba’s unique sound to the big screen in a multitude of movies we all know and love.

When I Get Home - Solange
Solange’s fourth studio album, ‘When I Get Home’, released in March 2019

Classic Miles Davis records like 1957’s Birth of the Cool, one of the most formative jazz albums of all time, features the sound of Bill Barber on the tuba. Hip-Hop supergroup The Roots have included the tuba in their legendary Hip-Hop lineup, the group’s  Tuba Gooding Jr. being heard on The Tonight Show for almost a decade (shoutout to Stay Human’s tubist Ibanda Ruhumbika on The Late Show band). It would be remiss not to mention the monolith that is Banda music, a genre of Latin music that made the instrument so popular Southern California schools had to declare a crisis from the obscene numbers of stolen tubas.

Tuba has found a voice in the modern music landscape through avant-garde Afrobeat quartet Sons of Kemet. The incredible playing by tubist Theon Cross adds a raw and guttural energy to the band’s sound which would be hard to replicate with another instrument. Not to mention, Sons’ ethos is deeply rooted in their Black heritage which would very much align with Solange’s own artistry.

Solange © Max Hirschberger
Solange © Max Hirschberger

From the “Louisiana Sound,” to Dixieland, to HBCU marching bands: The tuba list goes on. Much more than meets the ear, the strong, deep, and mellow sound of the tuba has the potential to add an incredible depth of sound to any type of music. Although she might be apprehensive about the audacity of this creative endeavor, the possibility of what the tuba can sound like in the hands of an artist the caliber of Solange Knowles is nothing short of tantalizing.

As a tuba player, I want to see Solange break the stereotype of the tuba and expand the instrument’s legacy. As a music fan, this sounds just plain rad and I can’t wait to hear what the R&B icon has been cooking up over the last five years.

Now all we can do is wait.

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