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Album Review: Beyonce - Lion King: The Gift

Beyonce Knowles Carter's African stars-studded latest body of work 'The Lion King: The Gift is not aimed at hijacking Afrobeats sound, but a love letter appreciating the continent's ever growing music industry.

 

Beyonce’s romance with African sounds started with Ciarca 2011, when she recorded a 20-track album inspired by the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. But the album didn’t see the light of the day.

Around that time, Queen Bey jumped on the track ‘Lift Off’ on the Watch Throne, the classic collaborative album by her husband JAY-Z and Kanye West.

One of the producers of that track was Nigeria’s Don Jazzy, who produced the track ‘Oliver Twist.’

That D’banj track is the genesis of invasion of Afrobeats (contemporary West African pop music) into the UK, other parts of Europe, the Caribbean and other parts of the world.

The door opening move that saw Afrobeat going global paved the ways for other artistes, that was how we had Drake working with Wizkid, Davido scoring a global point with ‘Fall’ and Yemi Alade getting over 100m views on YouTube for her monster hit ‘Johnny’.

Now, Beyonce is leveraging on the previous successes of 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 latest effort is not her first body of work that pays homage to Africa continent. In 2016, she released her cathartic album ‘Lemonade’.

Beyonce payed homage to 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.

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

Top American music contingents like, Pharell, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino also featured on the project, but truth be told, the African stars are the headliners on this body of work.

Three Nigerian stars, Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi and Tekno, elevate the tempo of the album with the ‘lamba*’ driven ‘DON’T JEALOUS ME’. This is one of the hallmarks of Afrobeats, cool rhymes, hypnotic melodies sprayed with an irresistible hard-knocking beat to match.

Party songs lovers too got their cravings with a solo offering from the hottest Afrobeats star at the moment, 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.

Starboy Wizkid who got popular in America with the BBK-OVO remix of his hit track ‘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 appreciates melanin beauty. “Melanin too dark to throw her shade/she minds her business and winds her waist” sings Beyonce.

Mr Eazi makes a his 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.

Dancehall star Shatta Wale made Beyonce flow with an Afrobeat on ‘Already’ also featuring Major Lazer. The Ghanaian did justice to the beat. “Try to stop it, me say no, no, no/royalty, don’t you say no, no, no” he declares.

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.

On the Sarz-produced ‘FIND YOUR WAY BACK’ Beyonce talks 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 curated a strong, balanced and vibrant album. 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.”

Quuen Bey achieves this feat well by letting African stars to do their thing. On the album, what she did can be likened to a party host who opens her doors to artists from the great continent of Africa to rock the house. And that actually had a nice time at the party.

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

Can we still argue the possibilities of Afrobeat conquering America’s mainstream? This Lion King: The Gift should be an answer.

It should also be noted that, Beyonce is not lending a helping hand to African acts but African artistes making Beyonce culturally relevant in a continent that is becoming a major force on the global music scene.

Lion King: The Gift is an album to behold and a pride for Africa, I rate this 8/10

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