This past weekend we had several things drop for the culture including Rihanna’s Fenty Skincare Line, Brandy’s new album (the first in 8 years) and my favorite, Beyonce’s Black is King, a companion piece to last year’s Lion King remake.
As I stated in my write up on the fashions in Black is King, I wanted to write a post on the cultural moments in the film. Black is King quite literally gave us all the culture we needed for the first half of 2020. From reminding the world of the excellence that is Afrobeats, to celebrating traditional African hairstyles and spiritual customs, to celebrating all things Black, Black is King is the love letter that Black people needed.
Celebration of African and Diasporic Rhythms and Beats
One of the first things that filled me with so much pride while watching Black is King is the homage to African and diasporic rhythms and music. Beyonce tapped several African musicians and producers for the project, some well known and some we’re just finding out about. She mixed Afrobeats with soul, R&B, hip hop and Reggae making the entire album feel like a full on bop. She featured Nigerian musicians Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Wizkid and Burnaboy, South African musicians Busiswa and Moochild Sanelly, Ghanaian Shatta Wale, Cameroonian Salatiel and Jamaica-American group Major Lazer. The music flowed like a celebration of Black artistry, which often gets overlooked and appropriated by mainstream western music.
Celebration of Traditional African and Diasporic Hairstyles and head wraps
Some of the most beautiful imagery that had me salivating was of Beyonce and the many players wearing traditional African and Diasporic hairstyles, mainly the different braided hairstyles that change throughout Africa. We saw the beaded braided shag of South Africa, bantu knots, fulani braids, Cleopatra braids, cornrows, afros, Havana twists, the Nigerian Gele and the red clay locks of the Himba women of Namibia. There were so many celebrations of black hair. And what I loved about this reclamation of hairstyles that were exiled and shamed in the West for centuries is how diverse and beautiful they are.
Bantu Knots and Fulani Braids
(Exaggerated) Braided Nubian Candace Hat
Nigerian Gele Headwrap
Reclaiming Traditional African and Diasporic Spiritual Practices and Rituals
Beyonce has been bringing traditional African and diasporic spiritual practices and rituals to the masses since she released her first visual album, Lemonade. In Lemonade there was a nod to Osun, the Yoruba Orisha (goddess) of sweet waters (rivers), sensuality, love and fertility. Osun is usually depicted carrying a honey pot and decked in gold and yellow and sometimes pink. And Beyonce has been invoking this goddess throughout her music since Lemonade and her trip to Cuba. In Mood 4 Eva, Beyonce states that “I am Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, I am the Nala, sister of Naruba, Oshun, Queen Sheba, I am the mother.”
The Orishas came with the enslaved Africans from Southwestern Nigeria and Benin to the Americas. This Yoruba spirituality is still practiced in Benin and Nigeria as well as in diasporic communities in Cuba (Santeria), Brazil (Comdemble) and Gullah communities in South Carolina and Georgian islands.
The other was the beautiful imagery of the Dogon of Mali’s Kanaga masks which is used in funerary rights, usually when a male dogon passes. They ensure the safe passage of the soul to the world of the ancestors.
Celebrating Other People of Color
One of the moments that took my breath away was in the song “Brown Skin Girl,” which made me tear up. Besides all of the beautiful dark brown-skinned girls flicking across my screen, it was when Beyonce used Tamil-Dravidian activist and creative, Sheerah Ravindren, as an entire moment to celebrate dark skinned South Asians. They’re a community that also has been plagued with colorism. I spent a full hour on twitter celebrating and crying with Tamils and darker-skinned South Asians alike for that beautiful moment of solidarity and validation.
Beyonce also brought in Colombian-Canadian singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez. So darker skinned Latinx got a seat at the table with a ton of exposure. It was as if she wanted the world to know, while we are celebrating black excellence there are other marginalized groups that are being celebrated too. I was here for all of it. It’s impressive how much thought and care went into Black is King and I’m sure we’ve only noticed a small amount of the cultural references and culturally significant moments in yet another incredible visual album from Beyonce.
Photos are screenshots from Disney and via PopSugar, The Cut,Elle and Instagram
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