The Many Facets of Solange’s “Seat at the Table”
2016 was a year full of musical surprises.
Some were heartbreaking, like the sudden deaths of David Bowie, Prince and so many other artists of near unfathomable impact. Others were absolutely astounding, such as the ever unpredictable Frank Ocean’s triumphant return with “Blonde.”
But of all these surprises, perhaps none is more glorious or deservedly exalted than Solange’s heartfelt political powerhouse of an album “A Seat at the Table.”
The album taps into something that feels nearly timeless. It flows desperately through the speakers, making its 52-minute length feel almost unbelievably brisk.
Never has Solange sounded more in command of her style and form, creating a record that changes shape and travels through its complicated, jazzy compositions effortlessly.
The opening track “Rise” is a short one. It is less than three minutes long, yet it instantly establishes the themes of the album lyrically in a single refrain dealing with destruction and rebirth. This is not only a lyrical theme but also a description for the music.
In the past, Solange’s music has been heavily electronic and light, almost not quite real. From the very beginning of this album, however, the instrumentals are earthy, heavy and unpredictable. The album is alive in a way Solange’s music has never really been before.
There is a real wealth of musical styles on the album, from Soul to R&B to Hip Hop to Jazz. The really striking thing about this album is how organic it feels. In the hands of many artists, this sort of genre-hopping would seem like an exercise in showing off.
But here, the changes never sound forced, never staged. The changes come completely naturally to Solange, who never seems uncomfortable or out of place while she jumps fearlessly head first into each experiment.
The confidence on this album is absolutely palpable. Solange, long a spokesperson for proud black womanhood in the face of adversity, shows a new clarity in her politics with this album, especially on the many interludes scattered throughout.
The interludes are a powerful touch, consisting of music underscoring spoken word recordings of Solange’s parents, Tina Lawson and Mathew Knowles. Their stories are heartfelt descriptions of their lives, always underscored by race relations in America and always with life-affirming pride and hope gleaming in the foreground.
These interludes tie the album together exceedingly well, creating an atmospheric context of current events.
The politics are an appropriate addition to the album, never cliché or insincere. Solange does an admirable job of keeping things real and immediate, giving the album a significance that makes it feel like something of a historical placeholder, a hopeful document of spirit from a year punctuated by aggression and fear.
This is the album’s real power. It shifts musically, delves into politics and all the while never loses soul or its clarity. It is a deeply human work of art with a message as important now as it has ever been in history.
It is a living testament to confidence and pride in the face of adversity, and more than that, it is an incredibly entertaining, never dull, reminder of the power of music.