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Queen Bey is in her Afrobeats bag with this one. The Lion King, one of the most successful animated children’s films has been remade into CGI form for a new generation and with it a bold original soundtrack. This album incorporates elements of hip-hop and R&B from North America and elements of Afrobeats from several African countries to create a sound that feels like a worldwide family reunion. This album puts together Childish Gambino and Tierra Whack along with Tekno and WizKid to create an inspiring soundtrack for not just the movie itself…but to black people all over the world. The lyrics are intentionally Afrocentric. The vocals ring out to the heavens. In the original Lion King film, many of the African animals were voiced by non-black people. This soundtrack (as well as the casting) is restoring black voices to their rightful place in their narratives, speaking for themselves.
Beyonce and her team searched far and wide to find the right voices for this project, and she did not disappoint. Long-time Odd Future and The Internet bandmate Syd provides her songwriting talents to “Otherside,” a hopeful song of mourning the loss of a loved one with the hope of seeing them in the afterlife. Simba wrestles with the death of his father at a young age throughout the film; this song puts the listener in a calm mood with Beyonce’s soothing vocals. The track features vocals from Nigerian recording artist Bankulli singing in Yoruba and KiSwahili. “So kale so okale so kale we/Woah Wao/Wa Wonu Okan mi Lo Oluwa,” he says in Yoruba, asking God to come down and enter his heart. He then switches to KiSwahili, a language spoken in Tanzania where the film is based on.
“Mababu Kitika Mawingu” translates to “Grandfathers Among the Clouds,” a perfect tie-in to Simba’s spiritual connection he shares with his late father. Something unique that resonates throughout the album is Beyonce singing in these African languages. While Kendrick Lamar did a respectable job as the MC of the Black Panther album, it sounded like his typical style of rapping stacked on top of other flows. Beyonce reaches out to speak in the tongue of the Motherland, which feels like a true marrying of artistry from both sides of the diaspora.
Another aspect of The Lion King that makes it stand out is the incorporation of lines from the feature film. Interludes from Mufasa (voiced again by James Earl Jones), Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Simba (Donald Glover) and Nala voiced by Beyonce herself, help give a proper structure to the tracklisting. Beyonce referred to this album as “Sonic Cinema,” and each song acts as its scene.
(Left to right: Tekno, Yemi Alade & Mr. Eazi)
“Go back to your den Simba, I don’t babysit,” Scar spits, followed by “Don’t Jealous Me” by Nigerian artists Tekno, Yemi Alade and Mr. Eazi. The song is a celebratory track, telling their haters not to waste time being envious of them, which is very much a key component of Scar’s character. “Sheep don’t run with lion, snake don’t swing with monkey/I can’t talk for too long, got too much gold to try on,” Mr. Eazi brags as he throws shade to his detractors using animal-inspired idioms that are custom to African colloquial lingo. The album very intentionally shapes the stories of each song after the main characters, which adds another dimension to the entire cinematic experience.
Black Panther was never scarce of Afrocentric machismo, as Kendrick Lamar and several West coast rappers flexed their skills on their respective tracks to honour the journey of King T’Challa. However, there was not a track on the album that focused on the women of the film that stand behind and fight mercilessly for him. Queen Mother, Shuri and Okoye were at the heart of the film, but none of the tracks on the album spoke to their power as strongly as they could have.
Beyonce makes sure to let the queen’s presence be felt in “Brown Skin Girl,” an anthem highlighting African women of darker shades who are often pushed to the side for their lighter counterparts. Nala has been a symbol of black female strength for decades, so Beyonce took the time to make a song celebrating her and the women and femme presenting black people that look up to her. A lightskinned black female R&B star being aware of the privilege her light skin allows her and then using her privilege to uplift her dark skinned siblings is a welcome addition to the legacy of The Lion King franchise.
Everything in The Lion King: The Gift felt intentional. Beyonce made an effort to sync her skills with talent from not just North America but different parts of the African diaspora as well. No random lines about threesomes from Jay Rock, no mindless gibberish from Future, just an eclectic group of artists that came together to help retell a beloved story. The main big critique about the album is that it does not feature East African artists, as the film takes place in a place inspired by Tanzania and Kenya. It would have been more inclusive of having artists like Tunji, K’naan and Muthoni The Drummer Queen lay their vocals on some tracks, but for the artists, she did collaborate with she was able to compose a body of work that the entire world can enjoy. The Lion King soundtrack is exactly what it says it is. The Gift is made of the best parts of blackness, something that all black people can be proud of.
By: Lorenzo Simpson
Edited By: Keshav Kant
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