Album Review: A Seat At The Table - Solange Knowles
By Laura Vale
Solange is often overlooked for her sister Beyonce. In spite of this, she’s shown she has a lot to offer, which A Seat At The Table makes evident. The record is ripe with themes of black womanhood and growth, proving further that she has grown comfortably into herself and her newly found sense of style, and the music is the catalyst for expressing this development and new understanding. A Seat At The Table is another groundbreaking exploration into black identity in 2016, and it’s importance has not gone unnoticed.
The album starts of with “Rise”, which opens with a strong message, alongside Solange’s delicate vocal passage: “Fall in your ways, so you can crumble; Fall in your ways, so you can wake up and rise”. The landing of the lyric “rise” on a high note is brimming with optimism, and manifests that this album will likely break you down to build you up stronger. The following track “Weary” features a gentle, breathy vocal, expressing her exasperation - ’I'm weary of the way of the world’. Its poignant simplicity and stripped back vibe, with the alluring vocals and harmonies, run in parallel. Solange expression of how beat down she is by the world is absolutely understandable - with black beauty still being exploited, black youths being killed by the authorities, and racism looming over America, it makes sense.
“Cranes in the Sky” is one of the most important tracks of the album, and one of the best as a result. The track kicks off with drums and violins and is immediately enticing. But while her voice is graceful and charming, there is also something clearly haunting her. And with the song being 8 years old, it adds immense power to the message that something has been looming over her for far too long - “I tried to drink it away, I tried to put one in the air; I tried to dance it away, I tried to change it with my hair”. “It” seems to be racism and the struggles she has faced as a black women, and with her own self-acceptance, but, also, society's lack of acceptance. The song is addictive, gentle, raw and strong, with a classic R&B feel. In “Mad” Lil Wayne delivers a powerful cameo rap on his right to be mad, expressing his loneliness, fear, and burdens that are “like a cap and gown”, even reminiscing on his suicide attempt. Solange hits back at haters telling her she has no right to be mad and complain, dismissing them skilfully and peacefully, and with ease she states: “I've got a lot to be mad about”. “Interlude - Tina Taught Me” is a wonderful exploration of black beauty and a demand to be loved as she expresses her honest belief in her pride of being black and why she deserves to be so proud. The prominence of race within the album undoubtedly continues - deservedly so.
Next in line, “Don't Touch My Hair” is a story of ownership of black beauty and pride. Black hair is so often culturally appropriated and yet dismissed when black people style their hair as such. This song is reclaiming it. Her raspy and gentle vocals give a purity to her message, whilst the prominent beat bolsters the message - “This hair is mine”. She is a strong black women with an equally strong message and this song does what it can to demand respect. One of the final tracks of the album, “Don't Wish Me Well”, features a deep heavy bass that looms over you, but when mixed with the electronic beats it becomes hopeful. This album is all about challenging you and breaking you back down in order to build you back up with a new fire and passion. The lyrics are insanely beautiful - "look what remains/ our ashes where they claimed my name/ they say I changed / what a pity if I stayed the same”.
Solange has created a historic, thematic album that packs a heavy punch. Her vocals are constantly dazzling, her lyricism astounding, and her concepts powerful. Solange has clearly been through a journey of self-exploration and her translation of that into her music has created something that leaves you in awe.