Beyonce's 'The Lion King' album must not become another 'Black Panther'
While Beyonce's The Lion King: The Gift album and Black Panther affect slightly different demographics, they share the same paths.
First, let’s talk Black Panther
In 2017, Disney released Black Panther. It was the biggest pop culture moment of the year. It controlled black culture for the better part of three months.
Black people visited cinemas across the world in traditional African regalia. ‘Wakanda Forever’ escaped social media into the real world as a colloquial greeting. Black people immortalized Chadwick Bozeman with words and inundated him with praises.
On social media, people added a 'T' to their names - Charles became T'Charles. At times, it felt like Black people conflated reality for fiction. People forgot that ‘T’Challa’ was only a human being named Chadwick Bozeman.
The unspoken consensus amongst black people was that Black Panther was going to inspire some cultural moment that will impact blackness as a whole and leave a lasting legacy on the real world.
Why did this happen?
The viral and wide acceptance and cultural praise for the movie came at a time when racism and xenophonbia were at their peak. Donald Trump, a man widely thought to be a bigot and a racist was the most powerful human being on earth.
Race-edged killings and police brutality became a consistency of modern reality. Donald Trump also aimed to control immigration from certain - black and Islamic - nations. A horde of white supremacists matched in Virginia, United States.
In truth you can't blame black people, a maligned demographic that only knows suffering, lack, toil and anger. They needed something to be happy about and identify with. But in the end, we got used.
Black Panther: Sentiment moment or cultural Victory?
It was just a movie. It is just a movie.
Just as conversations engulfed the polity of social media, it inspired allegiance and made people choose sides. But sadly, the movie was nothing more than a capitalist victory with minimal cultural victory.
Black people who will not come back to Africa in hordes to settle - at least not for the next 100 years. Nobody stopped to think about reality, people preferred the sentiment and created a narrative that you could mistake for black revolution.
Reality is not fiction - they are worlds apart. In reality, Africa is a seat of fundamental dysfunction tattered by indiscipline and corruption. It’s made worse that African problems come in the thick of widespread underdevelopment.
There is no Wakanda. Black Panther was too fictional and circumstantial to occasion any real change on the world. It is only a sentimental victory with little to no cultural impact on the real world. It was not going to change the heart of a racist cop, a bigot or a white supremacist.
While it might influence the case for inclusion in Hollywood, black people blew its perceived impact and legacy out of proportion.
It is only a sentimental victory with little to no cultural impact on the real world. It was not going to change the heart of a racist cop, a bigot or a white supremacist.
While it might influence the case for inclusion in Hollywood, black people blew its perceived impact and legacy out of proportion any black person come to Africa, it was going to be as a tourist, not an immigrant. Change is only change when it is felt on a spectrum, either tangible or intangible. Black Panther achieved none of that.
What then was 'Black Panther'?
A capitalist victory.
The movie was well-timed. On a capitalist level, Black Panther was a product of caucasian calculation. Its custodians are white people who sought to capitalize on a creative hollow in American cinema at such a sensitive time when a much-maligned race needed something to believe in. That creative hollow is the lack of a mainstream black superhero.
More importantly, it also came at a time when black people started extolling Africa as a quantum of identity. The movie portrayed blackness as a root of power and an organized seat of global power. At that root, Wakanda was home to vibranium - a super-metal that does almost anything.
These same white custodians from Marvel to Disney conceived, made and ‘gave’ black people the biggest sentimental moment of the past half-century in cinema. It was always going to be a financial success. Guess who copped the returns on the movie? The Caucasian custodians.
These were my thoughts in 2017. All my friends deserted me like the plague. They labelled me the perpetual cynic who lacked ‘loyalty’ to his people. The problem in moments like this is that people want to believe in and elevate sentiment as what it is not.
Black Panther was released in 2017 - that was two years ago. Other than being a sentimental wrinkle in time, I would like someone to tell me Black Panther's cultural impact is. Asides that, it was a also a very basic superhero movie. Now, let's get into afrobeats.
The Lion King: The Gift, Beyonce and afrobeats
Africa is the origin of blackness. But in 2019, it is only the majority of blackness, not the totality of it. Blackness is now globally represented across borders. However, one thing unites blackness, and it is the common strife, dysfunction and subjugation it suffers.
Wherever it finds itself, blackness always tries to break into the world of a ‘superior’ demographic either in business, entertainment or in whatever way else. This keep happening because prefer sentiment and we never try to build ours. It’s an eternal flaw that will make any major victory at best, temporary.
On Friday, July 19, 2019, American legend, Beyonce Knowles-Carter released her album, The Lion King: The Gift. The album was to be licensed as official soundtrack for the remake of animated adventure, The Lion King.
The 27-track project features a slew of African acts including, Wizkid, Mr. Eazi, Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, Yemi Alade, Tekno, Salatiel, Moonchild Sanelly, Busiswa and Ghanaian star, Shatta Wale.
Upon its release and like Black Panther which affected the larger Black race, it heralded a choral section of African support. Not only did the major acts feature, Nigerians like Bankulli had writing credits on three songs and Northboi had a production credit.
On the first day of its release, social media was swarmed with celebratory and congratulatory messages for acts that made it because it was a milestone worth celebrating. On a personal level, everyone that made it to the album will never remain the same, unless they milk the occasion wrongly.
Many praised it as a seminal moment that was going to finally convey afrobeats to the pinnacle of American acceptance. There's reason to believe that, but that's probably not going to happen. At best, it will lay foundation for afrobeats to truly flourish in America, spike up western interest in the featured acts and drive streaming numbers.
If we are lucky, it will drive interest in other afrobeats acts. However, that’s not guaranteed because the black American demographic is not as dedicated as the first/second generation immigrants in the UK. They are not driving afrobeats enough.
Moreover, The Lion King: The Gift is a terrible album with grossly overrated songs that will only perform reasonably on streaming and on charts because of Lion King effect.' Beyonce’s numbers have not been excellent for a minute now.
That said, if we somehow get lucky, and the album lays proper foundation for afrobeats to flourish, Billboard chart success shouldn't be the goal for afrobeats. The goal should be for African music markets to use the opportunity to fix their ills and drive FDI into African music market. That is sustainability and that's what should matter.
But sadly, that might not happen. Some will say that good things take time and Billboard success will definitely lead to some corrections in African music markets. However, there is a problem with that thought; will the African artists spearheading this movement only think of themselves instead of also building sustenance by fixing our problematic industries?
Even if they try, will it work? Yes we know, America is driven by capitalism. With Afrobeats successes on the Billboard charts, American capitalists will take a chance on African music markets.
But will we focus on what matters instead of being busy obsessing over the sentiment of afrobeats Billboard success? If we miss this window, The Lion King: The Gift will be nothing more than a sentimental moment like Black Panther,
Our origin markets will only be fixed when we make conscious efforts to actually fix them. Only with fixing can we have an industry that pays itself and does not need the western market to thrive. Only then will afrobeats truly thrive. The optics of social media positivity won’t fix these problems. Beyonce’s album will definitely not.
Positivity is nothing without substance. We can be positive all we want on social media and try to portray an industry in order. If we don't work to fix it, American capitalists will rush in and rush out like they did in the Nigerian e-commerce industry. We should not keep conflating sentiment for value.
On a final note
Blackness is of a maligned demographic. A maligned demographic is not the most logical. It has always been denied inclusion and a place on the mainstream, so if anything remotely represents inclusion, it is placed upon a pedestal and it gets blown out of proportion. It is a problem of sentiment of representation or a lack thereof.
It happened with Black Panther. Since its release in 2017, it has been nothing short of a sentimental homerun from which white capitalists are the only benefactors. It might have given the black kid a subconscious sense of belonging, but that will only be ephemeral.
Whatever the sense of belonging he gains from a movie will be wiped out by crushing reality of racial imperfections, non-inclusion and the lack of representation that surrounds him. His focus will shift from the sentiment of film in a heartbeat to surviving his reality. Black people can excel, but it’s not by watching Black Panther.
It will inspire some, but those who excel after such inspiration were probably already gritty enough to succeed without Black Panther. Even those who get inspired to come back to Africa and seek their roots will never move back when Africans are ‘japaing.’
Afrobeats should be wary of these sentiments so Beyonce's The Lion King: The Gift album doesn't end up becoming another Black Panther.
The reason is simple; the western obsession with afrobeats will soon die like it did with dancehall, reggae and even K-pop - until it recently sprang back up again with BTS.
And sadly, America will move on to the next genre. The American market is highly driven by capitalism. Since America is a conglomeration of several cultures into one 200-year country, there is a scattered root. The country would have to glean the outside cultures at the root of its existence to sustain itself.
In music, that's why it exhausts one foreign genre at a time to feed itself and move on.
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