Solange A Seat At The Table Saint Heron
On a Friday evening in September, Solange Knowles attended a Kraftwerk gig in New Orleans. While dancing, she was reportedly told to “sit down” by a group of white women, who proceeded to pelt her with half-eaten limes. In response to the incident, the singer penned a piece on her website Saint Heron entitled: And Do You Belong? – I Do.
Solange’s Saint Heron platform shares its name with a compilation album she released on her label, Saint Records, back in 2013. The intent of Saint Heron is to support the advancement of people of colour – specifically in the creative sectors. In the aforementioned post, she writes of the instance at the concert and other similar experiences she’s faced as a black woman. Essentially, the sentiment behind many of her words can be summarised by this excerpt: “‘This is why many black people are uncomfortable being in predominately white spaces.’”
With her third studio album A Seat at the Table, Solange instead endeavours to carve out a ‘space’ – as it were – predominantly for black people. From the outset, her desire to empower is clear. “Fall in your ways so you can wake up and rise,” she purrs on opening track Rise, while on follow-up track Weary, she repeats the telling statement: “I’m weary of the ways of the world.”
As the album progresses, Solange’s social and political stance is expressed further still. Don’t Touch My Hair, which features Sampha, unpicks the significance of hair in relation to identity for black people. Similarly, on F.U.B.U. she reclaims the N word and announces that “For us, this shit is for us/ Don’t try to come for us” – here, the theme of audible defiance is at its most potent.
While for some listeners, the breathy vocal delivery might take a backseat to the warm bass and gorgeous, airy arrangements, Solange’s message also is communicated via the many interludes that punctuate the album – from her mother’s proud reflections on what it means to be black on Tina Taught Me, to her father, who speaks of his experiences of racism on Dad Was Mad, to the acoustic display of “Black Girl Magic” on I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It.
Overall, the sound of this album is not dissimilar to Solange’s previous offerings. It’s an amalgamation of genres she’s accustomed to – there’s no mistaking the elements of dreamy RnB and futuristic funk in its soft, meditative sway. The difference here though, is that there’s much more substance behind her signature harmonies. Solange has imbued this album with a narrative steeped in the experience of blackness in America as well as an engaging, deeply personal insight into her own identity. In a press release, Solange called the album a “project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing.” It’s this sense of directness, throughout A Seat At The Table, that makes the distinction between wanting and needing to listen to her work.
In essence, A Seat At The Table is an ode to not only black culture, but to black people themselves. Her sister Beyoncé may have shown us what happens when life gives you lemons, but Solange has come into her own, to teach us how to respond when life throws you limes.