The Architecture of Voice or The House that Solange Built

A response to Solange’s A Seat at The Table by t’ai freedom ford

Columbia Records / Sony Music Entertainment

May: Brooklyn. Never-ending rain. Makes for a weepy mood. Vitamin D depleted. Honeybush tea and a space heater. A windowsill of plants: a small joy. A distraction from the river in the basement dampening the bottoms of boxes. (No worries) They ain’t mine. But this room. These rooms, this space is. Mine. Not a house, but an apartment I have fashioned into a home with my beloved.

We bourgie. Duvets of white linen. Mid-century wood: walnut and teak. White walls, Black art. Artifacts from our travels – hookahs and beaded dolls, crude instruments and such. A dining table for eight. Everyone gets a seat. Gets to eat. Praise Jesus who turned water to wine. My woman is fine. My cup runneth over. Sundays the dusty turntable comes alive with vinyl. Anita Baker. Luther Vandross. Aretha Franklin. Their voices paint the walls in pastels. I sing along with my hot pink voice. I am home. At home in my Blackness. My house the call; my voice the response.

I want to compare a voice to a house. Which is to say that some voices are a house of cards, so flimsy they collapse and expose the hustle. Other voices are mansions – each octave another room – to lose yourself in the splendor of their gold-plated range. Some voices: modern, sterile, angular, white. So perfect the architecture of their notes that we find ourselves unwelcomed to even sing along for fear of sullying such soulless perfection. Other voices are built with the wail and bone of sharecropper and gospel. Houses that smell of fish grease and vanilla extract. Houses that sing of their riches and make simple bitches of their unadorned guests.

But then, there is Solange. Who has built a house of red clay and palm fronds. An organic voice that, like nature, is beautifully alive with no claims to perfection. Solange’s voice is a many-roomed house where things bloom instead of wither. Where folk gather without pretension – without pretending. It is a house of open doors where I am allowed to wander in and out of rooms.

Rooms wallpapered with laughter and colored shades of skin brown. Gilded framed photographs of sepia-toned folk with faces like mine line the halls. Their eyes smile at me. Old guests turned ghosts. In Solange’s house, ghosts are welcomed. Because what are ghosts if not spirits spooking the throat? If not ancestors wailing with the floorboards... eating away at the sheetrock?

One room blooms with antique mirrors. Each wearing a different reflection of me. In one mirror I am haloed in the sheen of a golden fro. One mirror shows me wincing under the weight of a woman’s hands weaving my kinky coils into cornrows. Another mirror reflects my mama’s face, hair in fingerwaves and bloodshot eyes, a cigarette dangling from my lips. And finally, I see my familiar – all long-locked and teeth and cheeks and squinty-eyed laughter. Perhaps some version of happily ever after exists in this house.

I have seen houses foreclosed on, demolished, dilapidated... lopsided with worry. A hurried voice too thin to carry a note. Tamed by hurricane wind and sudden water. But this house welcomes rain. Chipped enamel basins. A drip-drop making music of itself in a room of rusted washboards and other dusty instruments. A tambourine atop a loose-keyed piano. A cowbell in a corner. Somewhere, an insistent cymbal, which I discover to be a pressure cooker’s syncopated hiss. A pot full of collards. A skillet of cornbread. A house aware of its roots unsettling the foundation.

I have listened to many voices build a house for themselves. I have seen the plumbing go awry, the foundation collapse under the fat weight of egos skinny with talent. I have translated voices into houses. Can tell when someone hires a decorator or uses a robot to clean the floors. Flimsy houses of lip-synch and Auto-Tune. Glass houses so transparent we can’t help but throw stones.

In A Seat at the Table, I lose myself in translation. Grief becomes a lemon yogurt Bundt cake baked from scratch. I translate white hands (seeking to touch) into church fans into hallelujah. I translate helplessness into yoga mat into reverb into succulents sunning on a windowsill. I translate depression into bassline into a whiskey neat into triumphant trumpets. Patriarchy becomes pomegranates becomes ripe avocados and other womb-like fruits. Gentrification becomes community gardens becomes architecture only we can access. Through this music I am shapeshifter – mind over matter – I am magic. But also vulnerable. Heartbeat and flesh. Ugly feet and toes painted grass green.

Solange’s house tells me to come as I am. One day, I wear a white suit and chalky suede shoes. Another day, I am born-again naked and muddy feet and not ashamed. There are buckets of rosewater in this house. A room full of feathered pillows. Walls painted with swallows, cranes and herons. I drink saké from mugs of terracotta. I wash the mud from my feet, as the wind whips through willows like prayer. How am I not God? Draped in a creamy cape embroidered with the words:

I’ll be back
like real soon

I’ll be back
like real soon

I breeze through the rooms dusting the floors with my cape. All the plants bow before my brownness. Here: I am holy.

I come from a long line of holy. Granny’s sequined hats. White lace handkerchiefs pinned to our greasy heads. Holy ghost shuffle and shout. Jesus’s witnesses possessed with spirit and spit. I come from a long line of holy. Orishas and Egun altars. Elekes and waistbeads. Melanin and sun ceremonies. Foot washing at the river. All white everything and still we black and holy as night sky.

How Black am I while listening

to this album?

I grease my scalp and twist my roots

to this album.

I sit on shag rugs and watch Soul Train on mute

to this album.

I write a sonnet for Sandra Bland

to this album.

I invite my granny’s ghost to shimmy

to this album.

I sang off-key and audaciously in my car

to this album.

I choreograph a queer Black future

to this album.

I eat fried fish and cheese grits with mad Tabasco

to this album.

This album gives me permission to wallow in my glory. To throw myself a tea party in honor of the day I was born. To eat popcorn with paprika and drink champagne out a mason jar. To be a blues song and a Black girl anthem in the same breath. To celebrate the breadth and depth of us. To acknowledge the breath and death of us. In these rooms/this house/this voice, I gather pieces of myself. Here: I am whole.

By t'ai freedom ford on May 16, 2017

On a different note