Why 'A Seat at the Table' isn't Just an Album: It's a Manifesto
If ever there was a piece of musical artistry that had the power to speak directly to the black experience, to lull the souls of black folk, to unburden their shoulders and sink into nothing and everything, and just be, while subversively demanding we be seen, heard, and fully recognized as whole people, beyond the sum of our oft-appropriated parts—that irrevocably significant sonic tour de force would be Solonge’s loving gift to us and for us black folks, A Seat at the Table. The album’s title immediately makes waves, as it states plainly the intentions of this work, to sustain the trans-generational mission of taking our rightful place at the table where we, not they, decide our fate, make known our worth, castigate our oppressors, and allow ourselves to heal. This album is a tear-stained love letter to blackness and black people, the type of letter you carry on your person and reread everyday to feel closer to love and made whole when you feel broken. Solange, black girl magic muse extraordinaire, has made a musical manifestation of the famed phrase, “speak softly and carry a big stick”—and we, black people, are all the way here for it.
Within the first thirty seconds of hearing Weary, as my colleague eagerly sampled tracks for me, I felt immediately transported through time and space, to a candlelit room, softly sinking into a sofa, a glass of syrah in hand, while exhaling my woes from my lungs. As the track continued she and I, almost hypnotically, began to reflect on the evocations of the melody and lyrics and the ruminations of our blackness with an openness we had never shared with each other before, forgetting entirely, our white colleagues who were also in the room. It was in that moment of bonding that I knew this album was far more than just good music; this was something special.
One of the themes that resonate so strongly throughout album, is its subversive, yet resounding f#!% you to the culture vultures who’ve constructed their entire society on our backs, and its unapologetic proclamation that this here is not for you [white America] in tracks like Tina Taught Me, Don’t Touch My Hair, For Us By Us, F.U.B.U., This Moment, and Where Do We Go. Their lyrics, delivered in soft tones with silent rage, convey that they can not have what is ours, they can no longer take what has always been ours; they beg the question to where do we captain our destiny from here on, yet declare that regardless of where we go or where we’ve come from, we stake claim and immense pride in who we are, and what we have made for ourselves. Don’t Touch My Hair, an immediate fan favorite, is the most powerful black women’s anthem since Formation--and it’s not even just for black women. Audaciously, it directly confronts the fetishizing of black bodies and black culture, and literally responds with what we have all wanted to say in those bewildering interactions with, “What you say to me?!” This track slays with a double edged sword, firmly asserting black women’s rights to agency in defiance of racism and sexism, challenging all those who wish to suppress us, asking again, “What you say to me?!” It’s not hard to visualize the collective “Preach!” echoing from the mouths black women everywhere, as they sway in the spirit, swinging their crowned heads from side to side. The righteous resistance codified in these rapturous songs and their illuminating interludes, taps directly into the frustration, anger, and demoralization that are a part of the black experience of living amid a society steeped in denial of its racism, and provides an escape from the darkness of our frequently misrecognized indignation.
Tracks like Rise, Weary, The Glory is in You, Cranes in the Sky, Dad was Mad, and Mad overflow with our submerged pain. Rise, the inaugural track, and counterintuitive battle cry, implores us to fall to pieces from our fatigue of the social and emotional violence we continue to experience as a people, so that we can rise again, stronger, to continue this fight. Weary’s whisper-like vocals and enchanting bass lead melodies conjure the sentiments of James Baldwin, revealing the spiritual exhaustion that results from being black and relatively, if not entirely, conscious of the ways of the world, while advocating for much needed respite, affirming our humanity and declaring we do, in fact, belong. And then there is Cranes in the Sky…and it is EVERYTHING. A deeply intimate reflection on seeking peace that rings so true, it coos to the soul like a siren’s song, not just calling, but allowing us to stand in our own vulnerability, triumphantly; to pack up our burdens, and lay our heads on the shoulders of whom we are tethered to [each other] through our collective pain. It is a masterful piece of creativity that immerses the soul in love and light and the space to breathe.
A Seat at the Table is an enthralling musical expression of the pain, anger, frustrations, aspirations, resistance, triumphs, voices, histories, and futures of black people. It professes that not only are we here, but we are hurt, we are entitled to our anger, we are tired, we are able, and we will rise. Solange manages to speak directly to our hearts, imploring us to trust and be black, because we gon’ be ok. We are magic, we are glory, we are love. We got us.
Bernadette is true Jersey girl — impatient, unfiltered, and infamously averse to mayonnaise. Her affinity for the finer things in life include high-end leather boots, jamón ibérico, and all things bourbon. She and her miniature poodle Kona, currently reside on the wrong side of the Atlantic in Baltimore, MD. But Madrid is their spirit city, and they plan of finding their way back in the future, this time for keeps. You can find more of her work here.