From the motivational “Bigger,” to the initiating “Brown Skin Girl” featuring Ivy-Carter, to the self-assertive “Mood 4 Life,” and the energetic “My Power,” the tracks on Beyoncé’s new album The Lion King: The Gift roll out a slew of empowering and reassuring words. Every lyric is inspirational as much as it is a celebration of Black heritage. In this project of remembering and re-assurance, American swagger meets African vibe; from Accra to Yaounde, from Lasgidi to Jo’burg, African rhythm and rhymes give life to the words in the songs. Driven by African authenticity, Beyoncé wields her soaring influence, mounts the stage, not alone, but with a gang of Afro-conscious tune makers and hit-jam creators, to gift her constituency a viable platform to share Africa with the world.
More than anything else, the album is a project, a movement; a Black, African project. The project centers the “kinfolk,” the “skinfolk,” and the “bloodline.” Featuring America’s and Africa’s finest artists, The Lion King: The Gift album is a celebration of everyone who has the slightest drop of African blood running through their veins with a gush of melanin adorning their skin tones, tainting their eyeballs, and crowning their nappy hair in all its different textures.
Beyond the layer of the adrenaline-popping vibes, the album encodes a deeper message.
When at the 2019 BET Awards in Los Angeles, Mama Burna, the mother of Nigerian singer, Burna Boy, said every black person on Earth must remember that they were first of all Africans before they became anything else, she was right. For those who may have harbored an iota of doubt, well, this time, again, Beyoncé is making exactly the same point with tracks like “Find Your Way Back” and “Nile.” But Beyoncé’s admonition and advocacy for that homegoing may not necessarily imply a physical return to Africa, the return is also about self-discovery and self-knowledge for people of African descent.
Since Marcus Garvey, the African essence has witnessed a growing momentum, but at no time has it seen a louder ovation as is witnessed today. With versatile Ghana doing a tremendous job of attracting more African Americans and other members of the African diaspora with its 2019 Year of Return project, the affable Beyoncé leading a movement that seeks to create a new genre of Afro tunes, and the cerebral Spike Lee extolling African spirituality in works like She’s Gotta Have It, with a wider audience to reach, thanks to technology; is it coincidental that the spirit of the message behind a track like “Find Your Way Back” is being renewed at a higher rate and intensity than ever before? Far from being a conspiracy, these trends are Africa-conscious in a hybrid world.
Afrocentrism, which on some levels appears to be an overtone of projects that center the Africa essence, has been criticized for its exceptionalism and its reluctance to fully acknowledge a cosmopolitan hybridization of the world. In my view, for a race of peoples, specifically a species of humankind “who were never meant to survive,” as Audre Lorde puts it, a project like The Lion King album which masterfully curates works of artistic geniuses can be tagged Afro-centric, Afro-maniac, and Afro-psycho for all I care. For every human society needs a story to tell itself in order to make sense of the world. And not all stories are false. Besides, it is a contemporary cosmopolitan creed that the call for one humanity does not mean that the local should suffer at the expense of the global.
The fact is this: as the world continues to mesh and collapse into a wonderful blend of borderless cultures, we need moments like the ones in this album to remind us of the invaluable spice that each people of the world can be in the making of a global delicacy.
PS: It is important to stress that the album’s overall message is not reserved for people of African descent alone, for that translates to ‘every black person except Africans on the continent.’ I believe that we are all recipients of the message when in “Bigger,” Beyoncé says: “If you feel insignificant, you better think again… You’re part of something way bigger. [You’re] not just a speck in the universe.” Needless to say, to achieve our deserved global respect, Africa and Africans must activate a shift from a spectator paradigm to an active player orientation. Music, arts, and philosophy advantage Africa as “the forward that the world needs to face.”