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Review of The Lion King: The Gift album by Beyonce

Beyonce’s latest body of work is not a cash grab attempt to milk the Afrobeats trend but a love letter to the beauty of African music.

Beyonce has been heavily influenced by African culture especially Yoruba culture as of late. Here she is wearing a face mask made from cowries (Pink Now)
Beyonce has been heavily influenced by African culture especially Yoruba culture as of late. Here she is wearing a face mask made from cowries (Pink Now)
Circa 2011, Beyonce Knowles Carter recorded a 20-track album inspired by the Afrobeat god Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. That album never left her engineer’s hard drive.

During this period, King B jumped on the track ‘Lift Off‘ on the Watch Throne, the classic collaborative album by her husband JAY-Z and pop culture icon Kanye West.

One of the producers of that track was Michael Collins Ajereh a.k.a Don Jazzy, who produced the track ‘Oliver Twist.

Naija LabelDon Jazzy and Kanye West. Date unknown (Naija Label)

The D’banj track is the seminal record that started the invasion of Afrobeats (contemporary West African pop music) into the UK, other parts of Europe, the Caribbean and eventually North America.

Since then, Afrobeats has had a few inflection points, such as the ‘Apple brand of rap’ Drakeworking with WizkidDavido scoring a global sing-along ‘Fall‘, and Yemi Alade racking over 100m views on YouTube for her runaway hit ‘Johnny‘.

Now, Beyonce is taking a stab at Afrobeats with her latest body of work ‘The Lion King: The Gift‘ inspired by the live-action remake of the classic Disney animation released in 1994.

This is not B’s first sonic body of work that pays homage to Africa. In 2016, she released her cathartic album ‘Lemonade‘.

Beyonce channelled the Yoruba deities Osun and Yemoja for the visual interpretation of her emotional mood at the time. She also worked with Laolu Senbanjo, a visual artist whose works are based on Yoruba iconography and mythologies.

BeyonceBeyonce as Yoruba goddess Osun (Beyonce)

Now, on this LP, she assembles Afrobeats mightiest acts, Burna Boy, Mr Eazi, Tekno, Wizkid, Yemi Alade and Tiwa Savage to help her channel the beauty and strength of Africa. Other African acts include Shatta Wale (Ghana), Moonchild Sanelly (South Africa), Salatiel(Cameroon), and Busiswa (South Africa).

Heavy-hitters from America, Pharell, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino also appear on the project but don’t get it twisted, the African acts own the narrative on this body of work.

The trio of Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi and Tekno, elevate the tempo of the album with the ‘lamba*‘ driven ‘DON’T JEALOUS ME‘. This is the core of Afrobeats music, easy rhyme schemes, hypnotic melodies sprayed all over an irresistible hard-knocking beat.

The party starter track is followed by a solo offering from the hottest Afrobeats act in the world right now, Burna Boy.

On the mid-tempo ‘JA ARA E‘, he warns you to “watch out for the hyenas” with his commanding voice. Zlatan, one of the hottest rappers in Nigeria at the moment, blesses the track with his adlibs that have induced kicks on dance floors all over Nigeria. Tip: Americans, Google Zanku*.

Ayodeji Ibrahim ‘Wizkid’ Balogun who rattled speakers in America with the BBK-OVO remix of his smash hit ‘Ojuelegba‘ in 2015, teams up with Beyonce for a duet on ‘BROWN SKIN GIRL‘ featuring Ivy Carter and emerging alt-Hip Hop act SAINt JHN.

The track is an ode to melanin beauty. “Melanin too dark to throw her shade/she minds her business and winds her waist” sings Beyonce. The pro-melanin theme is a common trope in global contemporary music but it is still an agenda that still needs to be pushed.

Mr Eazi makes a second appearance on the LP by assisting Tiwa Savage on ‘KEYS TO THE KINGDOM‘, a highlife-driven mid-tempo cut that touches on the themes of destiny and royalty.

Only the rabble-rouser from the Gold Coast, the dancehall warlord Shatta Wale could get Beyonce to flow with an Afrobeat cadence on ‘Already‘ also featuring Major Lazer. The gravel-voiced Ghanaian pounds the beat to submission. “Try to stop it, me say no, no, no/royalty, don’t you say no, no, no” he declares.

Energy goddess Moonchild Sanelly brings her genre ‘Future ghetto punk‘ on the ‘My Power‘. Starring Tierra Whack, Beyonce and featuring Nija, this is a fem-anthem celebrating girl power. “Refer to me as a goddess/I am tired of being modest/100 degrees hottest-if we are being honest” spits the American rapper Tierra Whack in a machine-gun flow that can create holes in a vibranium suit.

A cornerstone track on this album, the South African clicks and tribal drums is a rallying call for Africans to come and dominate the world stage.

Beyonce is as impressive on her solo cuts as she is on the tracks she features acts. On the Sarz-produced ‘FIND YOUR WAY BACK‘ Beyonce tells about a story about independence, strength and resilience. The track is peppered with vocal contributions from top Nigerian A&R Bankulli* who appears again on ‘OTHERSIDE‘.

The latter track is a ballad on friendship, “If it all ends and it’s over, If the sky falls fire, Best believe me, you will see me on the other side“, sings Beyonce. Bankulli elevates the spirituality of the song when he brings down the Holy Spirit in his native tongue, Yoruba.

27 tracks (13 Lion King interludes inclusive) and 54 minutes long, Beyonce has curated a strong, balanced and vibrant album. To hell with it, this could have been the soundtrack for the Black Panther movie.

Beyonce describes this album as her “love letter to Africa” and said she “wanted to make sure we found the best talent from Africa and not just use some of the sound or my own interpretation of it.

The Beyhive leader achieves this impressively by allowing African artists to do their thing. On the album, she plays the role of a party host who opens her doors to artists from the great continent of Africa to rock the house. And rock the house they did.

Even JAY-Z gives a shout out to Lagos, the city capital of Afrobeats, “Bumping Fela on the PUMA jet like we from Lagos” on ‘MOOD 4 EVA.

The Lion King: The Gift albums comes at a time when questions are being asked if Afrobeats can dominate America on a mainstream level. This album is a good shot at answering this question.

This however should not be the lens through how this album is viewed. The context is not Beyonce lending a helping hand to African acts but African artistes making Beyonce culturally relevant in a continent that is an emerging powerhouse on the global music scene.

Mrs Carter you are welcome.

Sincerely yours, from Africa.

Rating – 4 out 5


*Bankulli is credited with additional vocal credits on ‘Lift Off’, ‘Illest Motherfucker Alive’ off Watch the Throne.

*Lamba is used to describe a style prevalent in Nigerian pop music songs that have easy going lyrics and enchanting beats.

*Zanku is a street dance in Nigerian created by rapper Zlatan.

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5 things you should watch out for in ‘The Lion King’ remake

As ‘The Lion King’ opens in cinemas across the world, here’s a list of five things to watch out for.

'The Lion King' remake brings back nostalgic memories of the characters that include Simba, Mufasa, Scar, Rafiki, Timone and Pumbaa. [Entertainment Weekly]
25 years after Disney held the world spellbound with its spectacular animated movie, ‘Lion King, the remake returns to screen.

The remake of the classic movie has cashed in on the nostalgic feeling from viewers since the release of the teaser and official trailers.

‘The Lion King’ is a story about succession, monarchies, sex, and death all wrapped around characters that include large cats, warthogs, meerkats, and the Circle of Life.

Here’s a list of five things to look out for as the ‘Lion King’ opens in cinemas.

1. Circle of Life

Lion King [gamespot]

The first scene of the 2019 remake of ‘The Lion King’ is – as expected – the circle of life. The remake of the 1994 classic opens with the whole savannah gathering to watch a young Simba been presented by Rafiki as the crowned prince and future king of the pride land. The pretty stirring sequence has Lindiwe Mkhize singing to the whole operatic journey that is The Lion King. The opening scene is more characterised with sunsets and running animals and animals in the pride land while the song serenades through.

2. The comedy

The humour infused in the original ‘The Lion King’ remains relevant in the 2019 remake of the classic movie. Viewers will have a field day laughing at some of the dialogue in the movie, which has over 43 million views after the official trailer was released in April 2019. Despite the lessons to be learnt from the classic, the comedy remains an integral part of it.

3. Chiwetel Ejiofor sings

For Nigerian-British actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, the lessons learnt at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art was brought to the fore in the ‘Lion King’. Taking on the crucial role of ‘Scar’ in the 2019 remake of the classic, Ejiofor was tasked with singing the iconic villain song, ‘Be Prepared’. Compared to the rendition of the song in 1994 by Jeremy Irons, Ejiofor sings the villain song as a more menacing Scar.

Scar with other lions [The Independent]

With the theatrics and humor out of the song, Scar’s myopic, grand ambition and obsession with power become the highlights of the song for the 2019 remake. Ejiofor’s performance as Scar, a menacing brother to Mufasa remains remarkable. Ejiofor’s Scar is very different. It is more menacing, and not only believes himself to be the rightful king but he even once challenged Mufasa for the crown and lost. Ejiofor is angrier, more malevolent, and more terrifying.

4. Timon, Pumbaa, and Mufasa

Timon and Pumbaa [Vice]

The comedy in the remake of ‘The Lion King’ is complemented by the scenes featuring Timon and Pumbaa. From the hilarious banters between Timon played by Billy Eichner and Pumbaa played by Seth Rogen, a little surprise awaits audience across the world. Though comedy isn’t the primary aim of ‘The Lion King,’ the appearance of Timon and Pumbaa lightens up the moment. The first appearance of Timon and Pumbaa in ‘The Lion King,’ sees the pair injecting some levity into the movie which has gotten dark after the death of Mufasa. Simba is left in despair and as he tries to understand the whole issue, Pumbaa and Timon show up to lighten the scene. 

5. Picture perfect characters

Viewers will enjoy the beautiful look of characters in the ‘The Lion King’. The 2019 remake stands tall as a beautiful movie and the best nature documentary ever made with each animal portrayed in a nearly surreal level of photorealism. Though this has a conflicting sight when Nala, Simba, Timon and Pumba sing, the more impressive parts are when the visuals can stand on their own without the Disney songs. A scene viewers will fall in love with aside the circle of life is the earth-shaking avalanche of wildebeests in the stampede scene.

1/1 The Lion King Official Trailer