Nina Simone once stated that the duty of an artist is to “reflect the times,” and more than 35 years later, Solange is carrying the torch.
In many ways the spirit and inspiration of Simone lives inside Solange. Her new album, A Seat at the Table, is a collision of artistry and activism, an expedition through the Black experience, and all that it entails.
“Although sonically, there are times when this album feels like a celebration I think that it’s really truly for all of us,” Solange explained during an intimate listening session at the Underground Museum in Los Angeles Thursday (Sept. 29). “I’ve learned so much from everyone in this room even if I never met you, because I feel like Black people just reflect so much light that I’m so thankful for.”
At the core, A Seat at the Table is as a multi-layered masterpiece, a “tribute” to Solange’s parents, and a window into the “trauma” embedded deep in Black America. But the project is also a celebration of Blackness, and an example of the 30-year-old singer/songwriter’s artistic journey.
“I remember with my second album people’s overwhelming response was like ‘You’re kind of weird,’ they didn’t really know what was going on,” recalled the Houston native. “[They said] I wore crazy clothes or whatever, and I feel like continuously through the support of my family and my friends, I’ve stood strong in who I [am].”
“When you have that magic,” Solange added. “You just have to hold onto it, and not be afraid.”
The motivation to embrace that inner “magic,” can be heard in the stories shared by her parents on the album.
In “Tina Taught Me,” Lawson delivers powerful words about “accepting the beauty in being Black,” and Knowles recounts the “vacuum of segregation and integration, and racism,” on the interlude, “Dad Was Mad.”
“Seeing all those parents and KKK members having signs and throwing cans at us, spitting at us,” Knowles recalls of integrating into a White school as a child. “We lived in the threat of death every day.”
Knowles’ candid interlude leads into the track “Mad,” featuring Lil Wayne. “I ran into this girl she said why you always blaming?” Solange sings on the song’s chorus. “Why you can’t just face it? Why you always gotta be mad?….I got a lot to be mad about.”
Master P., whom Solange thanked for his “strong contribution,” narrates the album, which includes guests spots from Kelly Rowland, Sampha, The Dream, BJ The Chicago Kid, Q-Tip, and Washington D.C. artist, Kelela.
Just as the guest list adds another texture to the music, the track listing of titles like “Don’t Touch My Hair,” “Weary” “Rise,” and “F.U.B.U,” elevates the overall message, while Master P, has the last word on the empowering final interlude, “Closing: The Chosen Ones.”
As Lawson described at the listening event, Solange’s third studio album is “her Waiting to Exhale.” The ‘90s film, adapted from Terry McMillan’s best-selling novel, was a voice for a generation of Black women who are times broken, but ultimately triumphant in the face of adversity.
For a Black woman who is herself constantly evolving, A Seat at The Table is an invitation to dialogue, an emotional potluck of shared experiences, and lessons learned along the way.