Black folks are constantly searching for liberation, whether at a party or a quiet sanctuary to unwind after an exhausting week of code-switching and news of another deadly hashtag.
Solange Knowles has just provided both.
With the release of her much-anticipated album A Seat At The Table, the 30-year-old R&B singer invites black folks to an exclusive sonic affair. Set to R&B-meets-pop soundtrack, this 21-track opus – eight of which are poignant interludes that help pace the narrative of the LP – is a safe space that allows us to let our hair down, explore our identity, clap back at incessant hair touchers, take aim at cultural appropriators and jam out however we want. We can cry and step away from the American horror story that is watching black bodies litter the streets at the hands of police brutality and systemic racism… because of this album.
Through her own journey to self-empowerment, the Texas-born, New Orleans-based singer creates room for us to rest, to reclaim our (black) power, and also gives us access to more than our sorrows. She has purposefully, or maybe unknowingly, dropped one of the most important albums of the year (for us).
With the help of breathtakingly artful packaging – a digital book filled with poems, lyrics and photography by Carlota Guerrero, including 86 limited-edition hard copies – the impressive follow-up to 2012’s True EP and 2013’s Saint Heron compilation album examines how black folks feel, a simple thing the world at large often ignores. This “confessional autobiography” and pilgrimage to self-empowerment delves into the emotional impact of the black experience, spanning from anger and confusion to joy. A host of musical titans and quiet wonders join Solo for the audio social, including Raphael Saadiq, Questlove, Tweet, Sampha, Andre 3000, Lil Wayne, Kelela, Master P and her mother, Tina Lawson. Tucked away in every nook of glittering production and melodious lyric are tinctures that help us deal with “the ways of the world” and salves for the deep, open wounds carved by past and present black pain in this country.
It’s the snippets found between songs where Solo emphasizes her messages of healing, especially (and most popularly) Mama Tina’s minute-long take on pro-blackness for “Interlude: Tina Taught Me.” “Because you celebrate black culture does not mean that you don’t like white culture or that you’re putting it down,” she explains. “It’s just taking pride in it.”
This isn’t the first time an artist has provided a timely musical backdrop for our current racial climate in recent years. Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound and ScHoolboyQ’s Blank Face both contribute to the larger discussion of race and culture. But unlike those offerings, the nuances of the black woman’s experience resonates masterfully. On “Don’t Touch My Hair,” she analyzes the invasion of black women’s biological symbol of pride, resistance and celebration, then offers “Interlude: Dad Was Mad” with Matthew Knowles and the subsequent Weezy-assisted “Mad” as a clear-headed explanation for our anger. “You got the right to be mad,” Solange sings.
Solange’s longtime display of activism has bloomed over time, from her natural, fluffy ‘fro to her Twitter rant rightfully aimed at New York Times’ Jon Caramanica to her most recent essay on her racist encounter at a Kraftwerk concert. However, the singer partly credits her newfound self-awareness to relocating to the Crescent City three years ago. “A huge part of me moving to Louisiana was to really have a moment of self-reflection and self-discovery,” she says in an interview with writer Judnikki Maynard and her mother Tina. “I’m a strong believer that in order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you came from.”
No matter our black roots, A Seat At The Table brings us together as a whole to feast on a buffet of validation, reminders of our resilience and enough synth-driven funk (“Junie”) for us to dance away our suffering. It’s our soul food. I’m talking collard greens, yams, macaroni and cheese and our grandmother’s honey baked ham. It’s permission to be us unapologetically, which isn’t just important – it’s imperative for our sanity. It’s exactly that place of self-care stated so plainly on the shimmeringly bass-heavy “Borderline.”
Our rightful place may never be acknowledged by the world at large, and Solange may not have the answers as she openly muses on “Where Do We Go.” But the beautifully crafted 52 minutes of protective space makes living while black a hell of a lot easier.