Blood Orange (aka Devonté “Dev” Hynes) has done what he does best and put out some really awesome powerful music. “Sandra’s Smile” is an ode to Sandra Bland, a woman who died in police custody in Texas this year. The video features Hynes posted in the streets of New York, grooving like a young Prince. I write this article not only to celebrate the song, but also to make sure Hynes’ message isn’t lost in the groove. While the song is fairly sparse lyrically, each line is very potent and to the point:
“Who taught you to breathe, then took away your speech,
Made you feel so loved, then shook your hand with gloves?
You watched her pass away, the words she said weren’t faint.
Closed our eyes for a while, but I still see Sandra’s smile.
Can you see it in my face?
Had enough for today.
It’s hard for me to to stay in place, unless I force myself awake.
Look, an hour ago, I read Sybrina’s quote.
Why should she forgive?
D’we lose you if, we don’t?”
If you’re wondering who Sybrina is, she is the mother of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. In an interview asking if she had forgiven George Zimmerman for the killing of her son, she said she didn’t.
What I love about Dev Hynes’ music is his ability to encapsulate his experience as a black man in the Western world so well. He brings a fresh perspective in music that he refuses to let die away. Very few artists are willing to so openly speak on injustice or make it an integral part of their art as he does. Just this summer, he dropped a 10-minute odyssey on SoundCloud called “Do You See My Skin Through The Flames?”
He released it with the note that it’s not from the album, and it’s just some things on his mind. The song’s first verse is right to the point, much like “Sandra’s Smile”:
“Frustration and depression breaks me down,
Descending like they wanted underground,
The further our journey, the less you care,
That’s why you laugh at Kanye when he’s talking in a chair
Happy to be singing all our songs to survive,
But when we need help, you don’t get off til 5.
It’s powerful to feel so alone in a group”
He follows the first section of the song with a voicemail from Canadian-Trinidadian artist TALWST, who speaks on an experience in Paris where plain clothes officers proceeded to humiliate and question him due to the fact that he was “suspicious.” It’s an experience not too foreign to black people across the Western world, myself included. Hynes ruminates about his album towards the end of the song, processing its content. He says how the album is a deconstruction of him, to free himself from the painted image placed upon him. He references an interview with famed author James Baldwin, in which the painted image of him included watermelon and jazz music.
Along with this song, Hynes is putting together a one-night show with him and a host of friends and collaborators. All proceeds are going to the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music to help fund music education for the less fortunate of Harlem. Hynes says music changed his life as a kid and he hopes to give back to communities. If you’re interested in the show (and are somehow in New York on the 12th of December), you could get tickets here.
Enoch Ncube, Creative Director
Update: Dev Hynes himself has made a series of annotations to the song, you can check them out here.