“Black Is King” Is A Celebration of African Tradition
On Friday, 31st of July, Beyonce released her third visual album “Black Is King” exclusively on the streaming platform, Disney+. The film serves as a visual companion to the 2019 album “The Lion King: The Gift,” a tie-in album curated by the singer for the 2019 remake of “The Lion King” in which she stars as Nala. Described as a love letter to Africa, “Black Is King” gives viewers a means to imagine while listening to a new contemporary interpretation of the original story. It employs sound clips from the film to direct them to this image and goes on to showcase black excellence through various art styles. For 85 minutes, viewers are transcended into some type of black utopia with Beyonce serving as the dainty guide throughout the project.
This album celebrates the magnitude and beauty of black ancestry and also showcases elements of history and African tradition with a modern twist and a universal message, that revolves around finding your identity. After watching, it doesn’t fall far from off its original intention. It is a story told through stunning visuals from start to finish, inspired by popular culture through films like “Coming to America,” Christian imagery (upon which the original story of the Lion King is based), African art and the pan-African movement.
In the film, we are shown scenes from various locations, all with some form of aesthetic pleasure. Whether it’s the scene where NYSC students are dancing in “Keys to the Kingdom”, or the black debutante ball in “Brown Skin Girl,” or even the synchronised black swimmers in “Mood 4 Eva,” the scenes attempt to be relatable in some cases or fall within the black utopia fantasy it attempts to depict right from the beginning. There is also very high importance on fashion throughout the film and every piece of the costume worn by the pop star is regal with a lot of accessorising to go. Outside the big brands like Burberry, Beyonce also wears outfits by black designers such as Loza Maléombho, Déviant La Vie, Levenity and Lafalaise Dion to mention but a few.
Apart from the various art forms, the visual album shines a light on some of the amazing artists who Beyonce collaborated with while working on “The Gift” album. In addition to appearances by Jay-Z and Pharrell Williams, the visuals show various African artists including Tiwa Savage, Mr Eazi, Bussiswah, Wizkid and Yemi Alade. In the same vein, she also worked with tons of creatives on this project from the likes of Samuel Bazawule to Dafe Oboro, Jenn Nkiru and Ibra Ake. This album, in a way, exposes these stars to new audiences while centring them in the film and further acknowledging the cross-cultural collaboration of the original album.
With a visual album, most of the songs have more context to it which makes it even better. “Brown Skin Girl,” which was one of the biggest songs from “The Gift” showcases black and brown girls in all their glory and features beautiful women like Kelly Rowland Lupita Nyong’o, Naomi Campbell, Adut Akech as well as her mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson and her daughters, Blue and Rumi.
Days after the trailer was released, there was a conversation on social media that about the visual album portraying Africa in an outdated and unrealistic way and this was a problem because it could lead to a further fetishization of Africa. However, Black is King does a complete opposite, with black people in charge of telling a nuanced and delightful story. The soundtrack and visual album, in a way, shows Africans in a whole new light and takes you on a journey, through the story of “The Lion King” and the beautiful cultures within the continent.
With quotes like “Let Black be synonymous with glory,” and “The world will always tell you that you’re something else, that you’re too dark, too short, whatever. We need to show Black men and women are emotional, are strong, are smart, intuitive”, the album is filled with affirmative messages on the beauty of blackness, recognition of the power and royalty. In a time like this, “Black Is King” presents a message of being proud to be black and the importance to be proud of it.