Solange, A Seat at the Table, Saint/Columbia
2016 has been a mighty year for the sisters Knowles. Solange’s big sis released the most critically acclaimed album of her career, and now Solange has dropped what can only be described as her own singular masterpiece: A Seat at the Table.
After an early career spent singing backup for Destiny’s Child and launching her own solo endeavor as a teen, Solange became overshadowed by the talents of her big sis. However, when she released Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams (2008), it was clear that Solange was forging her own unique path. That path parted ways with Geffen Records, and went on to further experimental hybrid new wave/neo soul record True (2012). The rigorous process of making the album compounded by personal issues resulted in Solange suffering what she described as “a little bit of a breakdown.” Now with the release of A Seat at the Table, she has proven she has come to slay.
A Seat at the Table is an album meant to be listened to in its entirety. It is a cohesive ode to Black female power, reading as equal parts manifesta and self-healing manual. From the ingratiating ‘Rise’, with its smooth soul and hints of electro bliss, to the candid ‘Mad’, right to the very end it tells a tale of resilience and magic. It is not a fairy tale, to be sure. It is an upfront, no holds barred examination of the fatigue generated by the current state of the world, most succinctly evoked in ‘Weary’ where the artist states: “I’m weary at the ways of the world.” Aren’t we all.
Album highlight, ‘Cranes in the Sky’, talks of seeking distraction from that which wounds, but never really being able to escape the dull ache of injustice. Peppered throughout the record are spoken-word interludes featuring the likes of her parents as well as Master P, Black entrepreneur and label head of No Limits record label. These interludes are as evocative as the musical tracks themselves, driving home the artist’s intent and raising up Black voices and stories in a way that is as personal as it is political. These wounds don’t just close up overnight, they take generations to heal.
Perhaps the most piquant track on the album, ‘Mad’ featuring Lil’ Wayne is a brutally honest reflection on self-harm, fame and frustration. “I got a lot to be mad about”, Solange says, acknowledging the validity of anger as a powerful tool that holds just as much importance as happiness.
It is impossible to adequately delve the depths of this album without a typical review turning into a master’s thesis. So many themes are at play, but the one that consistently repeats itself is the search for self care, implicitly stated in ‘Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)’. Audre Lorde once said, “ Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” In a time in which Black Lives Matter is drawing attention to systemic racial violence targeted most intimately at the Black community, Lorde’s words seem more potent than ever. Solange has taken the banner in the tradition of Lorde, and has issued a powerful rallying cry.