Why Beyoncé has been accused of 'appropriating' African culture with her new album 'Black is King'

Moya Lothian-McLean@moya_lm
Monday 29 June 2020 12:00
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(YouTube/Disney+)

By now a ‘surprise’ Beyoncé album is just a Beyoncé album.

Which is why fans were pleased, if not totally shocked, by the announcement that Queen B is dropping a brand new visual album on 31 July.

Named ‘Black Is King' and streaming on Disney+, Beyoncé unveiled the first look the record over the weekend, with two trailers posted on Saturday and Sunday.

The visual album was apparently born during Beyoncé’s work on the 2019 film The Lion King, in which she played Nala.

At the time, Bey released The Lion King: The Gift, a full-length album that accompanied the film and featured collaborations with African musicians (many of them Nigerian) like WizKid and Burna Boy.

Which is perhaps why the first look at Black Is King shows Beyoncé continuing to use motifs from African culture, particularly Nigerian traditions including clothing and dances.

It’s not the first time Beyoncé has paid homage to the continent: in previous eras she’s extensively referenced traditional Yoruba deities like Oshun and incorporated choreography from the likes of Mozambican dancers in her performances.

But with more in-depth mainstream discussions happening regarding how Black people around the world are represented and received, this time, there’s been blowback.

Most comes from Black individuals, many of them of African heritage, who have accused her of peddling a narrative that African culture is broadly the same across the continent, despite it being made up of 54 diverse countries.

One Nigerian individual asked what was all the “Wakanda nonsense”.

Others said she was homogenising Africa and erasing important parts of the continent’s story.

Others discussed it in terms of “Wakandafication”, a reference to the popular 2018 Marvel blockbuster Black Panther, which depicted the culture of a fictional African country.

There were calls for more people to listen to Africans tell their own stories.

And reminders of how Beyoncé fits into a capitalist system.

Of course, this line of criticism was challenged by both the BeyHive and those who found it unfair.

Many pointed out that African Americans are often tracing their heritage when they return to the African continent, given thousands of their ancestors were forcibly shipped over to America to work on slave plantations.

There was loud disagreement.

Others said the issue was being over thought and that whatever Beyoncé did, she’d be critiqued.

It is true that Queen B is used as a meter stick an awful lot.

However, even those who identified themselves as Beyoncé fans thought it was strange that a film so centred on African cultures would not be available to stream on the continent.

Of course, no set conclusion was reached in this edition of the Diaspora Wars.

It was, however, agreed that even those with reservations would probably end up watching the film.

So maybe Beyoncé will ultimately win this one, despite all the debate. And isn't art supposed to be debated anyway?

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