A SEAT AT THE TABLE

by Candice Nembhard

‘A Seat at the Table’ is the newly debuted project by the enigmatic Solange Knowles. The 21 track album marries intricate layers of R&B with densely packed lyrics, carving open a bigger space to discuss the beauty of black creatives. With features from the likes of Kelly Rowland, Q-Tip, Sampha and Kelela – not forgetting incredible production credits from Raphael Saadiq – there is no denying that Knowles is opening and changing the space for admiring and respecting black creativity.

Knowles has never shied away from illustrating the dynamic capabilities of black women in artistic fields. From the South African backdrop of ‘Losing You’ to numerous Puma collaborations to discussing her personal experiences with racism, there is a level of continuity and dedication to black endeavours that can only arguably be matched by the likes of Prince or Nina Simone. Her life’s work to date has been a steady growth in creating the space in which you wish to see yourself. This growth has expanded in tandem with her bold, colourful and outlandish style, carrying with her a message of not only self-championing but suggesting that black music actually works best as a collective unit.

Each interlude discusses the importance of not only valuing your self-worth, but advancing pre-meditated expectations that often cloud the abilities of black folk at ground level.

With interludes from Master P and Knowles’ parents, the theme of the South consistently runs through the record. America’s complicated history with black folks is called into question by addressing black ownership and black entrepreneurship. Solange clearly states ‘this sh*t is for us’ in the song ‘FUBU’; referencing the black-owned hip-hop apparel brand made popular by numerous black musicians. Each interlude discusses the importance of not only valuing your self-worth, but advancing pre-meditated expectations that often cloud the abilities of black folk at ground level. So far, Solange is promoting a vision that says your ambition and integrity should never be compromised even if your ability to act out on your dreams is sabotaged.

The recently premiered visuals for ‘Cranes in the Sky’ and ‘Don’t Touch my Hair’, both directed by Solange’s husband Alan Ferguson, pinpoint the delicate, if not spiritual nature of black culture. They also detail why its appeal is not simply for entertainment value, but has its own history that has to be explained and ultimately valued by a person who is directly affected by its widespread use. Solange directly confronts the viewer with delicate vocals and an anger-fuelled message, echoing the sentiments of the voiceless and the exasperated.

solange-knowles

Image credit: The New Yorker

Her anger is mingled with her display of black pride and should not be confused as a message of anti-anything else. ‘There is beauty in black people and it really saddens me when we’re not allowed to express that pride in being black,’ preludes the Sampha-assisted track ‘Don’t Touch my Hair’. The push for black love is drawn out of seeing an environment and a culture not only be mocked but subsequently be repackaged and sold to you via a brighter, shinier upgraded model. In looking towards making our unique presence known, Solange sees black empowerment as a force to be reckoned with.

If anything, Solange is looking at how black empowerment manifests into the vibrant images of black culture we readily consume. Although their styles are distinctly different, it’s clear to see that Solange and sister Beyoncé are looking to a more rounded image of the black woman. Be she angry, or intently focussed, audiences of all races are paying attention to the creative black existence; one only need to see the sales of Lemonade, ANTI, Blonde or even the success of Chicago-born Chance the Rapper, Tink and Noname who have seen uncharted success without the backing of a major label. All these artists have dealt with the intricacies of working with the very people who permeate micro-aggressions into creative environments. Being a black creative is not simply about reaching for success, but understanding and supporting the failures of other black folk. It talks to a wider community of black and people of colour who are consistently working with their oppressors for half of what they get.

Commercially speaking, this is a giant step for Knowles. Although the singer has never clambered for world-wide fame or the artistic visions of her sister, Solange’s music has been one of slow, yet definite evolution and now comes at a time of black outcry. From the fight for natural hair in South Africa to the continuous homicide of black men by police authorities; the honesty of these existences are all connected in these songs.

‘A Seat at the Table’ does not dilute its message; instead it proves to give you a cold, raw memo that states ‘I am here’. I see parallels in this album with Jill Scott’s message of ‘being in the room’. You can only take a seat at the table if you’re in the room in the first place and I’m more than excited to see the dialogue that ensues because of this project.

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