“I would firstly like to point out that: It feels so amazing to be celebrated and viewed in such a positive light. This body of work has left me awestruck.” – Asande Kubone.
We all know and have at least watched the famous animated movie The Lion King once in our lifetime. It was originally released in 1994, but last year (2019) the original movie was remade into a live-action animated movie and Beyoncé was announced as the executive producer for the soundtrack album titled, “The Lion King: The Gift” which featured a handful of musical artists from different parts of Africa, from Nigeria’s’ Yemi Alade, Burna Boy, Wizkid and Mr Eazi, to Ghana’s Shatta Wale and our very own Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly who are all also part of the visual album, Black is King.
I’ll be utterly candid, when I first watched the teaser I had quite a lot to say, but I had to hold my tongue until after watching the visual album. Some of the questions I kept asking myself after watching the official teaser of Black is King were, “why would she merge various African cultures into one? Cause it continues to send the wrong message to the rest of the world about Africa being one big country whilst there are 54 countries. Why can’t Africans tell their own stories, through their own visual lenses?” But I had to realise that the answer to my questions was that Black is King is a rendition of The Lion King which is based in East Africa and that celebrates the beauty of our continent.
Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is a force, we’ve all known that, but she just solidified that even further by not only creating a visual album that celebrates black creatives, black music, black artists and black art, but by celebrating multiple African cultures and allowing African creatives and artists to be a part of it not only as supporting actors or just mere extras, but as lead roles. I appreciated that Africa wasn’t depicted as a mediocre & devastated continent while trying to romanticize that idea to the rest of the world. Even though they were over-egging the pudding with how Africans are always draped in animal printed clothing, but I believe that was just being used as purely art, artistic expression and used for the aesthetic pleasures.
Some of the standout shots for me that I took note of while watching Black Is King were the South African townships snippets, Amapantsula dancers and spinning cars. These shots warmed up my heart cause I was seeing the world that I was brought up in being celebrated on an international platform. Other two shots were Beyoncé doing the Nigerian “Zanku” dance and Warren Masemola when he was in his Scar mode.
Every scene that had Nandi Madida who was Nala in the visual album was exceptional, but when I saw her with Lindiwe Dim and Nambitha Ben-Mazwi preparing for her wedding with Nyaniso Dzedze or should I say Simba, in a building painted with Ndebele prints while “Keys To The Kingdom” was playing in the background I was fascinated. uMam’ Mary Twala was also seen on the visual album and this is said to have been her last gig, she was the Rafiki in the rendition. May her soul continue to rest in perfect peace. “To God we belong, to God we return.”
The biggest highlight for me was the referencing of the different African cultures, but it would’ve been more insightful if it was highlighted that a particular scene or outfit was inspired by which tribe of people from which African country. Here are my five favorite references that I picked up from Black is King.
This was inspired by the 20th century South African women’s hat, Isicholo, mainly worn by married women from the Zulu tribe. “The form of the isicholo, or married woman’s hat, developed out of a 19th-century conical hairstyle that was worn as a sign of respect to one’s husband and his family, in addition to serving as a public symbol of married status.”
Maasai warriors and the Adamu dance.
These men represent the Masaai warriors who are part of the Maasai tribe in Kenya or Tanzania and also represent the Maasai jumping dance called, Adamu. Traditionally, the “Adamu” takes place during the “Eunoto” ceremony that marks the transition of “Morani” (junior warriors) becoming senior warriors.
Head wraps date back from decades ago, but this one is a traditional Nigerian head wrap called “gele” that is mostly worn on special occasions. “Gele is a sign of social status and importance. It is, in essence, the Nigerian woman’s crown.”
Head carrying is something commonly done in almost all parts of Africa and it’s diaspora. Women carry baskets, clay pots and water buckets on top of their heads to help them balance and avoid carrying heavy items with their hands or on their backs.
The Mursi or Murzu are a tribe found in Ethiopia, they are best known for their head dresses, lip plates and wearing buffalo horns ontop of their heads. “The Mursi women are very creative with their ornaments. They use face and body paint, beads, horns, and scarification. The more ‘decoration’ women use, the more attractive they feel, and the more attractive they actually are to men.”
I don’t know what makes my heart more excited, from the visuals to the featured creatives and seeing some of the African references used in Black is King. This is something our kids should be taught about at school. We need more work like this. Credits and a big round of applause to each and every person involved in this production.
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