A friend of mine recently piqued my interest in the beautiful art form of poetry which I’ve come to appreciate in recent weeks. In my short time reading and absorbing poem after poem, I’ve come to realise that the elasticity of the words or rhyme patterns in a poem doesn’t determine the potency of the poem as much as the feeling it gives the reader. No matter the amount of interpretations given by the writer or various scholars, the true beauty of poetry is in the meaning adapted by the reader(s).
Every form of art is basically poetry either in static or in motion, because art speaks, sings or writes as the case may be. An image by a painter on a static canvas becomes an immortal expression when its interpretation(s) by onlookers leaves an indelible feeling on the individual, just like a favourite movie etches an unforgettable mark into a person’s mind. Music as a form of art can be amazing technically, but if it doesn’t arouse any sort of emotions it becomes mechanical and art without penetrative fluidity lacks ‘soul’ and almost always dies a forgettable death.
An artist just like a writer can only express the feelings, but it’s left to the listener to understand, misconstrue or redefine the meaning behind the art. All that truly matters is that the art being expressed leaves a lasting impression because art can only express, it can’t put the reader, observer or listener in the artist’s exact frame of mind. Not everyone can write exquisite poems, paint, act or make music but there’s an immense amount of joy when someone else helps to express our thoughts and feelings (on purpose or accidentally) in an art form we can sink into and maybe find solace in.
Solange’s critically acclaimed third album A Seat At The Table is an honest look at self-worth made in the context of black excellence in a white world. As far as music technicalities go, the album is a perfect balance between many extremes. The layering of instruments is fluid, funky and loose but still anchored, sprawling and vibrant at the same time. The vocals are neither overly raised nor timid throughout its duration. When the album feels like it’s sinking, it floats and when it feels like it’s approaching a crescendo, it holds. But the most striking characteristic of the album is that despite every balance, the emotions embedded in each song are very palpable and vivid. The album is a mix of anger, confusion, self-loathe, happiness, clarity and self-love all melted into one thick but featherweight haze of multi-coloured beauty.
After multiple listens to ASATT, I came to appreciate every inch of the album from music to lyrics to vocals to emotions and the album correctly garnered high praise from critics and fans alike. But the album didn’t become a personal favourite until a connection was made through a personal experience. Each listen held something new but the album didn’t get stitched to me until one hot Saturday evening in January 2017 – over 3 months after the album release and a substantial amount of front to end listens.
There was no electricity and the heat seemed life threatening that evening, it wasn’t going to be 7pm for little over an hour so the generator wouldn’t be on for a short while. From getting angry about the unwanted heat, my mind started to wander and memories of low points in the months prior formed inside my head, taunting me. This wasn’t the first time this was happening, in fact it was happening with increased frequency and it was annoying, I could even taste the resentment at my own self. Music was going to be the cooling pack for this hot feeling but after listening to some of my favourite songs I wasn’t getting anywhere. I shuffled my entire library and after a handful of deliberate track skips, I finally got one: Solange and Lil Wayne’s ‘Mad’ encapsulated my feelings at the moment, giving me the perfect soundtrack to wallow in my dolorous state.
“You got the right to be mad/But when you carry it along/You find it getting in the way/They say you gotta let it go” – Solange, ‘Mad’.
After multiple repeated listens to ‘Mad’, I decided to dive back into ASATT with a different strategy. I queued up all the songs on the album without the interludes (except the interlude featuring Kelly Rowland and Nia Andrews) and put playlist on shuffle. After listening to the curated playlist, I played the album in its original sequence and it affected me differently. The album now held a meaning, my meaning.
From the graciously sung phoenix concept album opener ‘Rise’ to the duplicity of standards on ‘Scales’, the album was a near perfect description of my predicament at the time – having to deal with simple issues made complex by my self-loathe and a crooked system setting me up for failure. By the end of the album there was no exciting feeling of triumph, more like a feeling of solidarity from an unknown individual in a support group. A priceless feeling of knowing someone went through a somewhat similar phase, someone who’s not being judgemental or preachy.
‘Weary’ made me feel small but not inconsequential. When she sings “You’re feeling like you’re chasing the world/you’re leaving not a trace in the world/but you’re leaving not a trace in the world/I’m gon look for my glory yeah/I’ll be back real soon/But you know a king is only a man” in an assured tone, the words became as much a realization of my dilemma as an understanding of limitations that needed to be crossed. By the mid-section of the album it has been ascertained that forward is the way, but what direction is forward? “I don’t know where to go/I don’t know where to stay/where do we go from here? Do you know?” she sings dejectedly expectant on “Where to go”. As soon as the album ends, the important lesson is that brutal honesty must be tempered with an awareness of self-worth to improve personal situations, because as Master P says in one of the album’s interludes “The glory is in you”.
I’ve lost count of the number of times since that evening that ASATT has served as an empowering patch to help me go through other difficult experiences. Even though I may never meet Solange, my experience(s) with ASATT will always remain with me which makes her and her piece of art immortal.
Words by Dennis, aka Mortal Dennis, aka @ayo_dennis.