Freetown Sound in DC

Photo: Pixabay, January 20, 2017

By: Maria Aragon

On September 13, British-native, New York-based project Blood Orange took to the stage at Lincoln Theater. Blood Orange consists of one person, singer-songwriter, composer, dancer, and producer Dev Hynes. Hynes, known for producing music with artists like Solange Knowles, FKA Twigs, and Carly Rae Jepsen, released his epic anthem for black culture, feminism, and self-love, Freetown Sound this summer. It is an album that touches on racism, religion, sexism, queerness, representation, and the internal struggle of individuality.

Freetown is the capital of Sierra Leone, where Hynes’ father is originally from. This ode to Africa foreshadows the ideas behind, “Juicy 1-4” with lyrics such as “Oh Mary, Our Lady Africa”. He personifies Africa not as a country but as a Mother, specifically the mother of God. This shows Africa in a different light, a nurturing vision contrasting the United States’ harsh and violent treatment towards African-Americans.

Dev Hynes uses this latest album as a means of self-exploration. He channels his experience as a black man to try and figure out how to be himself in a society that has already fit him into a certain stereotype. Songs like “But You” and “Hands Up” are powerful statements addressing issues such as racism and police brutality that are very prevalent to our country’s current events, yet there is an essence of fearful doubt of being able to do simple things, such as walking down the street.

Even with these dark topics being covered, the instrumentation gives it a smooth and funky deliverance. He also features a variety of female singers including Debbie Harry from Blondie, Carly Rae Jepsen, Nelly Furtado, and many more. 

That Tuesday night, Hynes was filled with charisma and gave a graceful performance. He was accompanied with a full band, two backup singers, and three dancers.  The audience’s diversity was limitless, varying from different races, ages, and sexual orientation. Different types of couples were present and those who went alone, all fully indulged in the rhythm and visual performance simultaneously.  

The first song he performed, “By Ourselves”, with spoken poem by Ashlee Haze set the tone for the night. It is a poem about acceptance of oneself, the importance of black representation and feminism at a young age. This not only represents the essence of the album but also what he embodied in his performance.

He sang, danced, and played an array of instruments. One memorable moment was when the monologue from the song “With Him” by the documentary, “Black is.. Black Ain’t” was playing through the speakers, the audience cheering along as it played. The monologue is an affirmation of the power of being Black, proclaiming, and “Black can set you down, black can let you move forward, and black will make you stumble around.” By cheering along, this shows that the audience shared the same confidence and exuberance that was in the documentary. Although that documentary was made in the early 90’s, it is something that still hits emotional chords in this generation.  That goes to show how much time has passed yet these issues have yet solved peacefully in the United States.

The Lincoln Theatre, located right in front of the U Street metro stop, is a historical landmark in DC, in its early years known as a cultural hub for African Americans in an era of segregation in DC. In the past, it’s hosted the likes of Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. These artists went through a political era where segregation and heavy violence towards colored people was evident. They used music to reclaim their culture, their talent, and a means to escape the harsh reality surrounding them.

Jumping forward to this concert, the energy and issues have not aged. There is still hurt and confusion over race relations in DC and throughout the country. Everyone in the audience, despite what political side they took, felt the anger and pain during his performance of “Hands Up”. It was powerful seeing a crowd actively respond towards a tragedy in a melodic way.

Hynes brought back the essence of the Lincoln Theater’s continued cultural relevance. A celebration of individuality, community, and using music to release the pain that is still heavy in our world today.

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