“And do you belong? I do.”
That was the title of the essay written by Solange earlier this year following yet another incident of highlighting “otherness”. It’s a topic that’s been the subject of her art, her social media output, hell even the burning of her and all our souls for quite some time. So it’s no surprise that this essay came, no surprise that it’s a simple assertion and not a question, no surprise that the line sits at the end of a track called Weary, and no surprise that it arrives on an album called A Seat At The Table.
A Seat At The Table. That phrase alone conjures up so many conflicting images. Who else is on that table? To whom does this table belong? And why is this seat so coveted in the first place? These are some of the questions Solange seeks to answer on a record that is political in the most serene and wonderful way. Whereas others – including her own family – have been more militant and vocal about causes like Black Lives Matter, here Solange enlists a bunch of pals to share a message of quiet rebellion, of remaining graceful even in the face of atrocity.
If that makes this a protest record, then so be it. But it’s also one that contains some of the finest R&B jams this generation has heard. Cranes In The Sky is a jewel that shines early on, an embodiment of disillusionment that soars in classic melody and light, twinkling piano and strings. “I slept it away, I sexed it away,” she sings, at once bringing to mind both immediate issues and the scourge of most millennials these days.
Solange speaks a gentle language throughout the record, even when faced with the most brutal ironies. Addressing the tag of ‘angry black woman’ is never going to be easy, but how Solange runs rings around her detractors on Mad is a wonder to behold: “Why you always gotta be, why you always gotta be so mad?” she asks as one persona, before deftly replying: “I got a lot to be mad about.” And the sucker punch of it all? It’s carved in a resplendent, cultural jazz-leaning vibe that’s been celebrated by those same naysayers since the 40s. If you take our music, take our message too.
For everyone expecting Solange to live up to this “angry” persona on a political record, this is a massive middle finger, raised gracefully and dipped in a varnish so glossy it forces a reflection. And sure, if you want immaculately produced radio jams then you can have the beats of Don’t You Wait or Borderline (An Ode To Self-Care) as well, or the slow-bloom of the Sampha-feature Don’t Touch My Hair. “They don’t understand what it means to me, where we chose to go, where we’ve been to know,” are lines that will strike a chord with any person of colour or any outsider in any country; it’s a blanket-wrapped demand of humanity that simply wonders who or why anyone else is qualified to lessen the experience of those who have already striven to fight for a place in society. At that damn table.
These are just a handful of examples of a record that doesn’t feel urgent so much as the self-assured drawing of a line that says we deserve to be here. “As long as you find peace in what you doing, then you successful,” says one interlude early on. That’s what Solange has found on this album: peace in her message, peace in her sound, and peace in the knowledge that people like us have every right to belong in this world just as much as anyone else, and we’ll be reminding you of that in the most beautiful way possible.