Don’t Touch My Hair: The song I needed 25 years ago

25 years ago, I was 12. This was when I decided that I was tired of having my afro cut into short “boy cuts”. I feared shears and I hated how I looked. But even as I started my hair growth journey, it was never about embracing my curls, it was about chasing a fantasy of having long straight hair. The awkward length stage caused me many tears and embarrassing moments of people pulling off the hats I wore because I didn’t know how to care for my curls. At 14, my Mom got my hair braided and it was then that I learned I have a lot more hair than it appears; way above average. My Mom taught herself how to attach the extensions so she could replace my braids as needed and extend the time I had them. By late 15, I started chemically straightening my hair, still chasing beauty ideals that I was not meant to be chasing, ignoring the beauty I had. I didn’t stop processing my hair until I was 29. 

Don’t touch my hair.

These words have echoed in my mind full of frustration for most of my life. 

Don’t touch my hair.

I used to have a sense of timidity and shame to say it. My hair is different; it does look as fluffy as a cloud; I should let them touch it; they mean well.

Don’t touch my hair.

Thank you, Solange, for adding a melody to my truth. They don’t know what it means to me. Thank you for making me feel proud to say it. I carried a sign with the words on it, while I rocked my afro last Halloween.

…….

I am elated that I had an opportunity to see Solange perform at the Rennie Museum today. 150 of us, mostly seated on the hardwood floor of a day lit room in the art gallery, shared in a unique musical experience and political statement.

Accompanied by drums, keys, bass, trumpet, trombone and two backup singers, Solange choreographed and arranged a fluid performance of her album, A Seat at the Table. 

The audience was diverse in age, gender, colour – a pleasant surprise since the shows sold out minutes after going on sale. Before the performance started, the room loudly echoed with the sounds of our voices. I was grateful that we were the third show. I reassured myself that the sound would be just right. 

She did well in choosing this type of venue.

Solange’s soft, pretty voice exuded power and strength in this space. While rearranged, each song she performed from the album was vibrantly familiar to the album version I’ve listened to dozens and dozens of times. I appreciated how smooth the performance transitioned because of how well the album flows with songs in a different order. The rearrangements were brilliant. I struggled to keep my emotions together hearing Weary and could not hold back my tears during an interlude before she performed Mad where everyone in the band stood side-by-side and screamed. It felt like release. 

I’ve got a lot to be mad about

but I’m not really allowed to be mad.

This was a performance, purposefully choreographed in a style similar to her videos and other performances, where each song melted into the other and we only had a couple of moments to ring our applause. At one point, singing F.U.B.U., Solange walked into the crowd and crouched down to sing right to a few audience members, including a beautiful little girl.

The set soon ended with a fantastic rendition of Don’t Touch My Hair. She then spoke for a couple minutes expressing her gratitude for the opportunity to share this music her way, during daylight so she could see our faces. She spoke of using her music, body and voice as a form of protest. She acknowledged some of the protest about performing in this space, and I can’t remember her poignant statement verbatim, regretfully, so I’ll leave it at that but we all were nodding in agreement.

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