Africa: How Beyonce's Black Is King Showcases African Art

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Cape Town — You might be wondering why #BlackIsKing is still trending – don’t worry – we’ve got your back.  It is something worth celebrating!

If you remember, last year, Beyonce released her album The Lion King – The Gift which featured many African artists. It generated a lot of buzz on the internet.  The album was inspired by the film The Lion King, a live-action remake of the Disney classic. She dedicated the album as “a love letter to people of the Africa”

Now, we are in for a treat as she has released the visual album, Black Is King, which provides a narrative of African heritage delivered through fashion and beauty.

The 85-minute visual album boasts of A-list African stars and it curates aesthetics and cultures from the continent. Beyonce’s latest project has us all feeling proud about the motherland and the diversity of cultures it offers as well as tapping into the beauty of African dance. The visual album has been recognized by many as some of Beyonce’s best work.

Oscar-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o pops up during Brown Skin Girl, as well as supermodels South-Sudan’s Adut Aketch and Aweng Ade-Chuol. The song features Nigerian’s Wizkid, SAINt JHN, and her daughter Blue Ivy. It inspired a #BrownSkinGirlChallenge on social media last year. Beyonce shouts out celebrities Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Rowland and Naomi Campbell to celebrate women and girls with dark skin, as societies around the world still struggle with colorism.

The album blends Afrobeats, House music and Rhumba music genres that are most popular in Africa. African giants like Ghana’s Shatta Wale, Nigeria’s Wizkid, Mr Eazi, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Nija, Cameroon’s Salatiel and South Africa’s Busiswa Gqulu, Moonchild Sanelly made an appearance. Their songs helped interpret to viewers the journey of a young king, Simba, on a journey of love, betrayal, and understanding the importance of his history.

South Africans have been celebrating the performances of actors icon John Kani, Nyaniso Dzedze, Nandi Madida, Folajomi Akinmurele, Warren Masemola, and Connie Chiume, who all star in the film. Late actress Mary Twala graced our screens for the last time, as she played a role as an elder. She passed away last month.

The album also includes art, fashion, hairstyles, food and costume and jewellery designs – most done and perfected by African creatives like South Africans Trevor Stuurman, David Ttale, MaXhosa, and Rich Mnisi, as well as Côte d’Ivoire designer Loza Maléombho. The hairstyles, the outfits, everything in the video is a jaw-dropping visual achievement. Everyone looks radiant and beautiful.

Beyonce’s costumes take centre stage to the narrative of the story.  The constant outfit changes keep viewers on their toes and eager to see what is next.  Her hairstyles touched base with Nigeria’s Fulani braids, headwraps like the gele; and to South Africa’s cowhide Nguni gear and Bantu knots. The cultural nods are abundant and a feast to the eye.

We applaud the directors and cinematographers who were given the room to showcase their talents into an engaging re-imagination of Simba’s journey. Such as  Ghanaian Kwasi Fordjour, who has worked on Beyonce’s cover art, including The Lion King: The Gift and Everything is Love. He also has choreography credits on a handful of her music videos, including Drunk In Love, XO, and Grown Woman.

However with every success comes backlash.  Others have criticised Beyonce for her representation of the African culture.  Some said that face paint, feathers, animal skins is the outdated way African countries are often portrayed on American screens. Others criticised her for using African imagery and themes in her music despite not performing or filming in Africa. But factcheck – she performed at the Global Citizen in 2018 in South Africa. Beyonce’s mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson came with gun-blazing and has defended the album, highlighting that her daughter worked closely with creative partners from Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.

In an Instagram post, Beyonce said: “With this visual album, I wanted to present elements of Black history and African tradition, with a modern twist and a universal message, and what it truly means to find your self-identity and build a legacy.  I spent a lot of time exploring and absorbing the lessons of past generations and the rich history of different African customs. While working on this film, there were moments where I’ve felt overwhelmed, like many others on my creative team, but it was important to create a film that instills pride and knowledge.  I only hope that from watching, you leave feeling inspired to continue building a legacy that impacts the world in an immeasurable way. I pray that everyone sees the beauty and resilience of our people.”

The visuals were filmed in South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria, as well as London, New York, Los Angeles, and Belgium.

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