It was a great day for African music on Tuesday, 16th Of July 2019 after the tracklist for “Lion King: The Gift” was released, a musical project inspired by the classical Movie “Lion King”, however, exclusively made for the newest ‘remake’ championed by American Pop Queen Beyoncé.
There had been initial rumours of Queen Bey recording an Afrobeats generic album and these rumours were almost immediately confirmed with a release of the tracklist, which has been received with pure excitement as African musicians dominate an album hosted by Beyoncé, you know…Queen Bey! Moving forward, in an interview with ABC, she regarded the album as a “Letter to Africa”, doesn’t that send chills through your entire body?
Away from the huge number of streams that will be generated, which meant more money for African/Nigerian acts, which translates to more money into the country, trickling down to perhaps more giveaways on Instagram and so…. The exposure and opportunities that this will give these artists is a once in a lifetime one that will take their music – African music, into the Western space where they can properly be recognized on the same level as their Western counterparts and in turn do the continent’s music industry a lot of good.
However, after basking in the euphoria of the win – most especially because it was dominated by Nigerians is it not worthy to reflect on the cons? Does this leave a bitter taste in your mouth, with the “they could have done better?” Is this thought lurking in your head? No doubt, every African act that made it to the album are very talented and have over the years pushed their brands beyond boundaries with sweats, blood and tears, but is the wide representation of African sounds, melodies, rhythm, composition and feel not supposed to be the most important factor in the selection process of the Album, if indeed it is accorded as a gift to Africa?
Looking at the tracklist, it had just South Africa and West Africa waving their flags, with the latter taking most of the features. Nigeria dominated with six nominations with their Afropop stars like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Mr. Eazi, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage and Tekno making the cut, while South Africa had Moonchild Sanelly and Busiswa, controversial act, Shatta Wale represented Ghana.
A brief check on the Original “Lion King” movie which was released in 1994 is essential as long as the newest version is accorded as a “remake” of the old one. You would agree with me that the initial movie has the roots and origin that relates more to South African and East African cultural and environmental backgrounds.
Swahili was the native dominant language used in the Animation and if you can recall- the landscape that was adopted continuously screamed “East/ South Africa!” – from the hills, the deserts, the wild animals, the savannahs and all sorts, even some of the characters.
Music, being a powerful tool in representing cultural values and traditions plays a major role in painting and interpreting these cultures, showing its beauty, as well as selling it to foreigners, hence, I totally applaud Beyoncé and whoever it was for the brilliant idea of allowing Africans to dominate the musical Album of a classic African movie that tells an African tale.
However, the golden question is: “Was Africa well represented in the selection process of Artistes that were shortlisted for the Album?”
In Beyoncé words “the soundtrack is a love letter to Africa,” but if indeed it is, shouldn’t there be a rationally and even inclusion of African voices on the album, especially concerning ‘Lion King’. To name a few, Sauti Sol, Harry Kimani, Diamond Platnumz, Ali Kiba and a host of others are East African artistes that could have represented that part of the continent on the album, dully and excellently.
Language, sound, melodies and Rhythms are very important in the composition of music, hence with this tracklist, does anyone foresee and predict a monotonous West African dominated voice presented to the world on our behalf, instead of the uniqueness in the diversified language, sounds and cultures we have in Africa.
Apparently, it seem as though it was a project that might have largely concentrated on the level of ‘exports’ each African country has that is known in the western world, instead of the true act of exploring African music wider and selecting her talents which should have reflected in the artist selection process, if indeed it is a letter to Africa.
Arguably, there many who believe that the best way to solve the problem of African representation is to represent the whole with a part, but “is our rich cultural diversity not our uniqueness and should be well represented?”
Also, many would opine that we as Africans should not be in the position to dictate the type of present Beyoncé gifts us, but “if she is presenting this gift in collaboration with other African musical colleagues, as a way to tell our story and showcase our value to the world. Is it not supposed to be Perfect?”
So, just before you go back to watching Big Brother Naija, here’s something to ponder about “yes, ‘Lion King: The Gift’ is a letter to Africa, but was it spoken in Mother’s tongue?
Written By: By Ademoye Afeez O.
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