A year after the release of The Lion King: The Gift, Beyoncé and Disney teamed up to produce her Black Is King visual album. The album is meant to pay homage to the continent of Africa and its heritage. The film which streamed at the end of July 2020, certainly sent tongues wagging as many praised the songstress for her creativity. Others were left disappointed at her depiction, citing it as a perpetuation of idealistic black power which wasn’t true to the reality of many Africans. Judicaelle Irakoze, who is a self-proclaimed Afro-political feminist with an audience of more than 30,000 on Twitter, expressed her disappointment with the songstress. She stated that she wished Beyoncé “use[d] her power and status not to glorify africanness rooted in [a] power game against the white gaze.”
Despite what some may think, the inclusion of Africa, its people and its heritage in the film was a site to behold. The film itself was adorned with vibrant colours, elaborate dances, references to cultures and sounds from Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon and Ghana.
Seeing this coming together of different Africans, and the celebration of blackness is commendable in my books and is what I know the African culture to be.
My favourite has to be the visual representation of the song “Bigger” as she intentionally reminds her audience how we are more united than divided. We are part of something bigger than ourselves…it’s in our heritage that we are United, and that is something way bigger. In her documentary, the making of The Gift (Behind The Scenes), the artist starts off by saying, “Visiting countries in Africa is always an emotional experience for me. It feels like I am making peace with a part of me that is yearning for my ancestral connection”.
Over the past few years other artists have received attention for their reference or inclusion of African culture or sounds in their music in their modern day music. Burna Boy, a popular Nigerian artist who is often referred to as the new age Fela Kuti, is often seen making reference to Nigeria’s history and culture. The African Giant even boldly reminded his audience of how Nigeria came into existence as a result of a business transaction between the British and the Nigerian government. He further highlights how that British company still exists today as Unilever, “…But that’s a story for another day”.
Angelique Kidjo, a music legend in her own right is also known for staying true to her roots in her music and has been able to garner a global audience because of it. In January of this year (2020) she scooped up a Grammy as she was announced the winner of the ‘World Music’ category. Many chuckled at seeing her typical African aunty tendencies come out when she was photographed with the award on her head and hands on her waist. But, many, including myself smiled at how unapologetically African she was, even at a world stage. In her acceptance speech she praised the talent that hailed from the continent, “The new generation of artists coming from Africa are going to take you by storm and the time has come.” I don’t know about you, but I was taught that anything which has a stamp of approval from an elder, is one to trust. I appreciate that I have seen the gap narrow between the history and heritage of different African cultures, and the music that I relate to today and in my opinion that is unmatched.