Talking about an album that means a lot to me is always a challenging thing. I’m having such difficulty with Solange Knowles’s “A Seat at the Table.” How can I describe the hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach after hearing the line, “I tried to let go my lover, thought if I was alone then maybe I could recover” in “Cranes in the Sky”? How can I put into words the deeply relatable fatigue after listening to “Weary,” a song dedicated to the emotional exhaustion of the “ways of the world”? I won’t attempt to do that. But what I can do is appreciate this album’s brilliance, Solange Knowles’s poeticism and artistry, and music that will appeal to someplace deep within your soul.
“Cranes in the Sky” is perhaps the most well known track from the album, and I’ll admit that I’ve been singing it in the shower for the past few weeks myself. To me, the mark of a great poet is the skill to, in as few words as possible, find words to comment on something that everyone can relate to on some emotional, empathetic level. That, although one may have difficulty describing it, the best way to respond is with, “yes, yes I understand what you mean.” I imagine this is why “Cranes in the Sky” is so popular. Take this line, for instance: “I ran my credit card bill up, thought a new dress would make it better. I tried to work it away, but that just made me even sadder.” All I can respond to that with is, “yes, I get what you mean.”
While the two most popular tracks off the album are “Cranes in the Sky” and “Don’t Touch My Hair,” this is the type of album that should be listened to all the way through. Not only because every song is worth listening to in its own right, but also because part of what makes “A Seat at the Table” so poignant are the interludes. These spoken-word interludes, dispersed throughout the album, are every bit as poetic and musical as the songs themselves. One interlude that particularly stood out to me was “Interlude: Tina Taught Me,” an unapologetic—yet positive, joyful—ode to the beauty of blackness, and the ways in which our culture’s emphasis of whiteness as an ideal of beauty delegitimizes and excludes the experience of black people. These interludes, and the album in general, celebrate blackness.
“A Seat at the Table” is a breath of fresh air in a year that has brought the worst of American culture to the surface. “Weary” is a testament to this, a track in which Solange laments the state of the world and the shared sense of helplessness and disillusionment to which, I’m sure, many Americans can relate. That being said, I recognize that this album wasn’t made for me or for any other white person. This album revels in black experience, culture, heritage and history. This is a work of art produced “For Us By Us,” as the interlude at track 12 is aptly titled. So much of the media is tailored for white consumption, at the expense of artists of color. This album is an example of how, even though it was made for black people, white people do not need to feel excluded or offended. “A Seat at the Table” is moving, emotional, and personal. It is enough to simply listen and appreciate the poeticism and grace with which Solange eloquently describes things as indescribable as race, depression, love and whatever else it means to be human. It is sufficient to say, “I will never know what it means to be black, but I can listen to what you tell me.”
I find Solange Knowles as an artist, and as a person, inspiring. If you let it, “A Seat at the Table” will leave you a more compassionate and understanding person. Please listen to it. Five out of five stars.