As an investigation continues into the untimely death of Sandra Bland, one artist is paying tribute to the African-American activist in a new song.
Devonte Hynes, who records, releases music and sometimes performs under the moniker Blood Orange, released online Tuesday morning the sparse lament ‘Sandra’s Smile,’ which recalls Bland at the time of her July arrest and death three days later. “Closed our eyes for a while, but I still see Sandra’s smile,” Hynes sings over a minimal beat and synth line.
In his tweet for the song’s lyrics, Hynes included an image of Bland above an accompanying picture of Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton. Fulton is also referenced in the song.
Shortly after announcing the song’s release, Hynes posted an accompanying black-and-white video to YouTube, which functions as both a “Manhattan”-like love letter to the city and adopts the visual language of civil rights marches as Hynes and friends walk down a city sidewalk, arms interlocked.
In recent years, Hynes has been vocal regarding institutionalized racism: two weeks after nine churchgoers were shot to death by Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina, Hynes released “Do You See My Skin Through the Flames?,” a sprawling, 10-minute rumination on race where he confessed “Charleston left me broken down but it’s just another day to you.” In the piece, Hynes also delved into the origins of his last name (which he traces to slavery and says means “servant”), and he featured a voicemail, presumably of a friend, who shared his frustration with “being surrounded by friends of privilege who don’t get it.”
Hynes also told Strokes singer Julian Casablancas in a recent interview he had written an entire album about Trayvon Martin that he’d ultimately shelved.
Yet the release of “Sandra Smile” seems strangely prophetic given one of the dominant threads of Tuesday’s news cycle is the emergence of a video where a police officer in Columbia, South Carolina body slams a teenage girl – an African-American girl – to the ground in front of her peers and teacher.
Hynes is not the only artist to address the deaths of Bland and unarmed African-American youths. Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo and Run the Jewels to name a few have tackled the issue of race and police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement on recent records. And earlier this month at the 2015 Triumph Awards, hip-hop artist T.I. performed ‘United We Stand,’ a spoken-word meditation that found him saying “United we stand/Because we created a hashtag for Sandra Bland.”