Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table’ — four years in the making — arrives at a zeitgeist moment in a divided America. A spate of police shootings of black Americans, racial tensions seemingly reaching an unequivocal peak as a result, a black President finishing his final term, supplanted potentially by a toxic pretender. The country screams for catharsis. This year alone, works by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, and of course older sister Beyoncé, have shaped black discourse in pop culture, full of socio-political leitmotifs. Indeed, Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table’ completes a year’s worth of treasure trove black excellence in music, her narrative conceived through the eyes of a young black American woman, told through a prism of past and future Afro-Americanism. It’s a dense, sprawling affair, managing the tricky feat of celebrating black pride, but never at risk of becoming a discordant polemic.
On paper, the 21-track LP may seem like a deed to navigate through, but once engaged with, you simply have to marvel at the mellifluous flow as one track seeps into another. Interludes can hinder the natural cadence of a record, but the ones here are necessary prerequisites; ripe with social commentary about black indignities through the ages. It’s all about community and self-worth, with Solange inviting anecdotes from a host of individuals that have shaped her sense of self. On ‘Tina Taught Me’, her mother effectively dismantles the notion of reverse racism; on the interlude ‘Dad Was Mad’, her father recounts his experiences at school being the token black kid. Solange’s musical collaborators, both fresh-faced and established, brush their own respective strokes on her tapestry, augmenting the pro-black totality of the record. On the spectral highlight ‘Mad’, Solange and Lil Wayne invoke themes of alienation and black rage, especially the devaluing of black women. This is why the hymnal ‘Scales’ is indispensable in both historical context and sonic depth; Solange and Fade To Mind artist Kelela trade sweet harmonies over a meditative backdrop, female kinship fighting through in the face of adversity.
‘A Seat At The Table’ drips with vintage realness — warm and dusky hues, ‘60s girl group harmonies and miasmic psychedelic-soul. On ‘Cranes In The Sky’, Solange channels Minnie Riperton euphoria, singing off her sorrows, expressing in humane ways her coping mechanisms: by the song’s end, she’s risen above her inner demons. She presents her ideas through a complex spectrum of genuine solemnity and satire, as if she’s guiding the unknowing through her worldview, whilst artfully reading them for their lack of sentience. A delicate balance effected with meticulousness by herself and neo-soul pioneer Raphael Saadiq, Solange is full of wry, dry candour on tracks like ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, reclaiming bodily autonomy so often denied to black women, sung over sleepy synths and plush horns, culminating in a dance-along moment of freedom.
Solange fully embodies the educator on ‘A Seat At The Table’, a role she personifies with a gusto so rarely seen in popular music. It’s not a preacher-esque record but Solange is advisory throughout, wanting her message to shape the consciousness of impressionable black AND white communities. The album lacks a pure pop moment like the sun-kissed, heartbreak anthem ‘Losing You’ from her 2012 ‘True’ EP. Instead this LP is built on subtle distillations of hazy soul, funk and disco. Its apparent accessibility isn’t a priority for her, inclusiveness is — with Solange inviting the listener to partake in her congregation. ‘A Seat At The Table’ is expertly-curated; a near-perfect record that serves as a timely musical manifesto on how to be black and proud.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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