Beyoncé’s Lion King album makes Afrobeats the star
She has called it a "love letter to Africa". After years of flirting with Afrobeats, the contemporary African fusion sound inspired by Fela Kuti's Afrobeat, superstar Beyoncé Knowles Carter has finally put out an album hinged on the music genre.
Lion King: The Gift features six of Nigeria’s heavyweight entertainers including Wizkid, Mr Eazi, Yemi Alade, Tekno, alongside Universal Music signees Tiwa Savage and Burna Boy.
Cameroon’s Salatiel and controversial Ghanaian dancehall artiste Shatta Wale also join in on the fun, as do South Africa’s Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly. It also features her billionaire rapper husband, Jay Z, fellow Lion King actor Donald Glover (who raps as Childish Gambino) and a few other American artistes.
The project is an accompaniment to Disney’s reboot of The Lion King, released this month, and has been hailed, by Rolling Stone and Slate among others, as a saving grace for the photorealistic, “botoxed” version of the cult 1994 musical animation.
African reactions to the transatlantic anthology curated by one of the world’s most famous pop stars have been mixed but largely positive, and it has been receiving a lot of airplay by Africans on the continent and in the diaspora.
- Pulse.ng’s Ayomide O. Tayo argues that is “not a cash grab attempt to milk the Afrobeats trend but a love letter to the beauty of African music”.
- East Africans, however, soon took to the Twittersphere to complain about the lack of East African artists, a point conveyed Stateside by Hannah Giorgis in The Atlantic. Nigerian critics have retorted that their music dominates the continent and this is reflected in the album. They claim it resets the balance after Black Panther had no West African content – proof of a longstanding tradition of Hollywood stereotypically using the Kiswahili-speaking area.
Any attempt by an African-American superstar to pay homage to their African roots is going to provoke debate – on the one hand it gives international exposure to some of the continent’s finest musicians, and on the other accusations of “cultural appropriation” are never far behind.
- In 2013, Beyoncé sampled Chimamanda Adichie’s viral TED talk on feminism in her hit, Flawless. While saying that Beyoncé “has nothing but the best intentions”, the Nigerian novelist was piqued that the press seemed to think the world had discovered her thanks to Beyoncé, and pointed out that “her type of feminism is not mine”.
- The Hollywood hit Black Panther was joyously received on the continent, but was still “a movie for African-American filmgoers, claiming their piece of the franchise as well as of cinematic history” (in the words of The Africa Report correspondent Nanjala Nyabola).
Beyoncé has certainly gone further than Black Panther’s producers to get to the roots of culture in Africa – or at least West African culture – and it seems to be a project that comes from the heart. She has also gained kudos by giving 25-year-old South African Bubele Booi the chance of a lifetime. His tweet went viral: ·
Almost a year ago a South African kid left home with a suitcase and a keyboard.
A year later that same African kid was given an opportunity to produce a song for @Beyonce. That kid is me, and I’m humbled. pic.twitter.com/zi4p0KAfTv
— Bubele Booi (@B_Booi) July 19, 2019
Bottom line: Beyoncé’s efforts may not be entirely altruistic or capitalistic and the album itself may not be 5-star, but it could ultimately be the shortcut for Afrobeats and its progenitor Afrobeat to go mainstream worldwide. Perhaps even Fela Kuti would approve of this love story.