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On Lion King: Beyonce Didn’t Forget East and North Africa

Beyonce Knowles-Carter attends the European Premiere of Disney’s “The Lion King” at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on July 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney)

When Beyonce announced her new album, “Lion King: The Gift,” she probably had no idea that she would unleash a sequence of events that would divide the continent across cultural lines.

The album, which would accompany remake of the famous Disney animated film, which opens Friday has thrown Africans against each other, with conversations about the lack of inclusive representation of all the major sound cultures on the continent.

The album comprises of African artists drawn from Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Nigeria, has the most numerical strength on the LP, with Yemi Alade, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Tekno, Mr. Eazi, and Burna Boy, all coming through with crucial work. Ghana’s Shatta Wale made the cut, and South Africa offered Busiswa, and Moonchild Sanelly. East and North Africa had no part in it.

The pockets of protests about the unfairness of the choice of collaborators for an album that is inspired by a movie that borrows from East and South Africa, but offers them so little, appear to be valid on a surface level. Beyonce, after all, describes the album as her “love letter to Africa.”

For the first time in her music career, Bey is extending a hand of collaboration to a continent, via a symbolic piece of art like the Lion King. It’s the stuff of history. African music has been on fringes for far too long in the US, knocking on the door, and gearing for an explosion. This album has the potential to be the catalyst at its most impactful, or at least a milestone that moves the dream closer.

Knowing how these deals work, the Africans who are complaining to Beyonce are doing it wrong. Everything happens in business meetings, and for all the professionals involved in the deal, the biggest driver here will be money. Money comes from numbers, and right now the data shows that West Africa is ahead.

Beyonce wanted to collaborate with African musicians and make the African sound that is on the verge of breaking in. That sound is what urban America, consider to be ‘Africa.’ That sound is situated in West Africa, with a solid hub in Nigeria that keeps on giving. The wave of penetration of the sound came from Nigeria. When Nigerian artists and their handlers who have been knocking on all these doors for years, get results, it is deserved. They’ve worked for it and they have got it.

“As much as we celebrate with our fellow Africans, the obvious exclusion of Kenyans/East Africans on this soundtrack is depressing,” says Victoria Kimani, who got a career from Nigeria, and her most impactful record came from Nigeria. Kimani also believes that Beyonce forgot about her country, and the prime Lion King characters are Kenyans. Not fictional lions, but Kenyans, complete with a birth certificate and place of residence.

Kimani is being dishonest. Beyonce didn’t forget your country. For business and cultural reasons, those names were picked. If Kenya was to get a spot, Sauti Sol would have been the obvious choice. Kimani knows this truth but acts naive. She’s at the backend of the industry. She knows the people who pulled it off. She knows who to talk to them. Whether they will listen, is another question.

Why are other countries pressed over Nigeria getting deserved wins? Right from my childhood, Hollywood’s embrace of Africa has been evident. But much of the stories from this continent that have been told have come from the Eastern and Southern parts. Lion King is a great example. For Black Panther, no Nigerian artist made the soundtrack. But did you hear a word from we embracing folks? No. Nigerians cheered, watched and listened. We take African wins personal and celebrate like big brothers ought to. But when Nigeria gets ahead on any level, the complaints come in hot. Are we not one big continent anymore? Aren’t we brothers? Kumbaya, remember? Hakuna Matata!

What this project does for our collective push is to expose our artists, move them closer to their dreams of commercial success in new territories, and above all, the Billboard Hot 100 smells so close again. It’s a win for everyone, including the people who feel like they deserve a shot at this. Ideally, this has to be more than a money conversation. Cultural exchange is beyond commerce, and when Africa has to collaborate, fair representation ought to happen. The responsibility lies not with Beyonce, but with the middlemen and music industry professionals who get in these rooms and facilitate these deals. Everyone wins when everyone wins. We can do better.

For now, let’s crack open the bottles and celebrate this win. Did I hear you say “we don’t need American validation?” Yes? You are a joker!

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