The year is 2019. TV show host and serially bankrupt, semi-bald man Donald Trump is the president of the United States of America. TV show host and serially bankrupt, semi-bald man’s British clone, Boris Johnson, is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Global pop superstar Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter has released an Afrobeats (inspired) album.
No, this isn’t some twisted game of Two Truths and a Lie. It’s 2019, and these are the facts. One of them being significantly more exciting than the others.
Beyoncé is good. So good in fact, that we have become accustomed to her excellence. We drink in her talent like pure water instead of savouring every note and tone like the fine wine it is. She has spoiled us, really, with vocal ability that is second to none and career management mastery that is worth doctorate-level study. It is through this lens that we must view her latest offering.
“The Lion King: The Gift” is a soundscape and her self described “love letter to Africa”. She guides us through the main plot and character points of probably the most beloved Disney film of the nineties, using some of the world’s most dominant forms of black music – Afrobeats, Afrohouse, Dancehall, Hip-Hop and Gospel.
The booming voice of the great James Earl Jones starts the album off and leads into two solo efforts from Beyonce, “BIGGER” and “FIND YOUR WAY BACK”, that capture the overarching message about the importance of the black diaspora and being connected to one’s roots. And through the album, It’s clear that her messages to the continent and the diaspora have been meticulously crafted.
Her maternal voice comes through on viral hit “BROWN SKIN GIRL” featuring her daughter Blue Ivy and the Starboy Wizkid. It’s an anthem uplifting dark-skinned girls in a world where most of them have to fight hard to come into their confidence later in life. Tiwa Savage takes the baton on “Keys to the Kingdom”, assuring black boys of their value.
There are empowerment anthems for grown ups too. Certified banger “ALREADY”, which features Shatta Wale, secures Ghana’s win for outstanding performance on the album where Nigeria wins for attendance. And Afrohouse jam “My Power” showcases Philadelphia rapper Tierra Whack’s Kendrick-level flow alongside South African powerhouses Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly.
The sheer cast of collaborators is a testament to Beyoncé’s leadership – knowing when to step back and give other artists a chance to shine. On “JA ARA E”, African Giant Burna Boy gets a whole track to himself, while “Don’t Jealous Me” brings afrobeats heavy weights Tekno, Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi together. She joins in alongside producer extraordinaire Pharell Williams and Cameroonians Star Salatiel on “WATER”, and we also see her knowing when to take over, sitting solidly in her ballad bag on the spiritual “OTHERSIDE”.
While sonically the album is focused on beats, chants and other sounds directly from the continent, Hip-hop gets several moments with “MOOD 4 EVA”, a track from The Carters, “NILE with King Kendrick Lamar, and “SCAR” featuring Canada’s very own Jessie Reyez.
Closing the album is Oscars bait “SPIRIT” – a total vocal masterclass. Woven through it all are interludes of core scenes from the movie’s storyline. While “The Gift” the use of interludes may grow tiresome after several listens, they anchor initial listens, filling every song with a sense of necessity and purpose and fueling the idea that even the presence of your less preferred songs is as legitimate as the presence of your faves.
Mita is a Calgary-based wordsmith with a passion for music. When she’s not busy being communications professional, you can find her collapsed on her sofa or working to create spaces where people of the Diaspora can have fun and connect. Her pen is mightier than a sword.