‘The Lion King: The Gift’ is Beyonce’s Love Letter to the African Diaspora

They say that not everything that glitters is gold, but this rule does not apply to Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. Everything she touches becomes gold. The live-action adaption of The Lion King was released on the 19th July 2019, and while most people were revealing in seeing Rafiki lift up newborn Simba over Pride Rock and mentally preparing themselves for the trauma of seeing Mufasa die, again; Beyoncé gave us a literal present in the form of The Lion King Soundtrack, The Gift.

This album has done an excellent job of elevating artists, and a genre of music that is growing in popularity but needs an additional push forward into mainstream music. African’s artists featured on The Gift includes Nigeria’s Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Tekno, Mr. Eazi, and Wizkid. Beyoncé also recruited Shatta Wale from Ghana, Salatiel from Cameroon and Moonchild Sanelly & Busiswa representing South Africa.

The Queen B described this album as a “love letter to Africa”, and I appreciate and applaud the efforts. However, I would personally describe this album as more of a love letter to the African Diaspora.  We should not forget that this album features her co-star Childish Gambino, as well as Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay-Z.

On this album, Beyoncé speaks about the love & appreciation of blackness. She repeatedly invokes elemental imagery to affirm her African lineage. On the “Circle of Life” redux track “Bigger,” she sings, “I’ll be the roots, you be the tree. Pass on the fruit that was given to me.” On “Nile”: “Darker the berry, sweeter the fruit. Deeper the wounded, deeper the roots, Nubian doused in brown, I’m lounging in it, fountain of youth, I said I’m drowning in it.”

We cannot forget about the wonder that is the track “Brown Skin Girl” where Beyoncé addresses colourism in the Black Community. She affirms dark-skinned women, who are so often told that their beauty is less than. Despite the vagueness of the term ‘brown skin,’ it was crystal clear which skin tones she was referring to, when she shouted out Kelly Rowland and Lupita Nyong'o on the track. It also comes as no surprise that Beyoncé would have her daughter feature on a song celebrating Black women; for many years people made fun of Blue Ivy’s ‘nappy hair’ and skin tone. There are many little girls out there who need to know that their blackness is beautiful.

The Lion King soundtrack will serve as a reference point to many people who are still unfamiliar with Afrobeats, but will be willing to listen to anything that Beyonce puts out. Essentially what Beyoncé has given the world is an Afrobeats starter pack, to which I say thank you.

The Lion King Soundtrack also comes at an advantageous time to many of the African artists on the album. Yemi Alade has a new album, Woman of Steel, arriving before the end of the summer. The same is true for Burna Boy, who will release African Giant this week, and DJ Lag, who released the Steam Rooms EP with Okzharp on the same day as The Gift.

My only criticism of the album would be that I would have liked to see more East & Southern African representation. However, I will never condemn an album that celebrates the diversity of The Motherland by inviting artists to dance between English and their native tongues, from Swahili to Twi to Bambara to Yoruba.

With The Gift being a good blend of African Diversity as well as traditional Disney tropes, there is no doubt that Beyoncé is coming for the Oscar’s Best Original Song nomination. I say more power to the Queen; I hope we see more collaborative albums like this in the future.

 

Written by Natasha Mulenga

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