A celebration of self-worth

The 21-track A Seat At The Table, by Solange Knowles, is a meditation on the times.
The 21-track A Seat At The Table, by Solange Knowles, is a meditation on the times.PHOTO: REUTERS

The third studio album by Beyonce's younger sister, Solange Knowles, is an ambitious effort.

Released just six months after Beyonce's magnum opus Lemonade, Knowles takes on territory that Queen Bey has already claimed, namely commentary on being a black woman in the United States.

But while Lemonade is about relationship drama and tackling injustice, A Seat At The Table is about healing and self-empowerment in a world that marginalises people of colour.

Painted with the heavy brushstroke of social awareness, it is an after-hours, loungey neo-soul meditation on the times.

The 21-track album opens with Rise, which Knowles revealed was "for Ferguson, for Baltimore" - referring to the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray.

  • HIP-HOP/ NEO SOUL

  • A SEAT AT THE TABLE

    Solange Knowles

    Saint/Columbia

    3.5/5 stars

Brown was an 18-year-old black teenager who was shot by a white police officer; Gray died after sustaining a broken spine while in police custody.

The song seamlessly segues into Weary, where she laments that she's "weary of the ways of the world", but it transforms into a message of hope with "I'm gonna look for my glory yeah, I'll be back real soon".

It is a recurring theme where there is always light in the darkness.

Then there is the stellar list of collaborators, such as in the shimmering track Junie, featuring Andre 3000's falsetto, jaunty pianos and an infectious funk bass line.

A standout track is Don't Touch My Hair, which tackles racial microaggressions with lyrics that go: "Don't touch my hair/When it's the feelings I wear/Don't touch my soul/When it's the rhythm I know."

British electronic soul artist Sampha complements her honeyed vocals as they merge in the chorus over triumphant horns. He joins a range of diverse collaborators including rappers Lil Wayne and Q-Tip, and indie rocker David Longstreth from Dirty Projectors.

That said, this is an album that very much relies on its content for its edge, rather than hooky beats or experimental music.

Interlude Tina Taught Me is a recording of her mother Tina Knowles explaining that "just because you celebrate black culture doesn't mean you are putting down white culture".

Much like the album, it is a declaration of self-worth that doesn't pander to mass audiences.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'A celebration of self-worth'. Print Edition | Subscribe