Beyoncé parlays her role in Disney’s The Lion King to put out a fine companion album that showcases today’s African stars.
A s Beyoncé ’s art has grown outwardly political and pro-black throughout the decade, she has increasingly called upon African-born artists to participate in and inform her work. She did this with Tofo Tofo, the Mozambican pantsula dancers who appeared in her 2011 “Run the World (Girls)” video. In her self - titled era, she sampled Nigerian feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on 2013’s “***Flawless,” and Griot vocalist Ismael Kouyaté on the Afro-inspired “Grown Woman.” The Lemonade film, which was threaded by excerpts of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire’s work, featured ritual Yoruba body makeup work by Nigerian-American artist Laolu Senbanjo. During her 2018 set at Global Citizen Fest South Africa, she recruited a local choir to add Zulu backing vocals to a performance of “Halo.” And later that year, her headlining Coachella performance interpolated Fela Kuti, which can be heard on the subsequent Homecoming film and album.
In her ongoing quest to both pay homage to a black cultural history and contextualize herself within it, she took advantage of her role as Nala in the super-CGI remake of The Lion King and hired a swath of African artists and producers for a new album inspired by the movie. The Gift is an extension of Beyoncé’s work and its themes of ancestry, self-love, spirituality, and family. But its main purpose is to showcase today’s African musical stars, putting their sound on an enormous platform using the commercial reach of one of the world’s biggest pop titans and Disney’s highest-grossing franchise.
Similar to Kendrick Lamar ’s Black Panther -inspired album and other recent globe-trotting works like Drake ’s More Life and GoldLink ’s Diaspora , The Gift is thrilling because of the diasporic connections being made through collaboration. African artists from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, and South Africa all display a wide range of regional genres and merge them with American styles. This works best on tracks like “My Power,” where rap weirdo Tierra Whack and Top 40 songwriter Nija join forces with South African gqom badasses Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelley for a searing DJ Lag-produced track about black girl determination and resilience. Meanwhile, “Don’t Jealous Me” features a survey of different artists that fall under the oft - misused umbrella term of Afrobeat , as Nigerian stars Tekno, Yemi Alade, and Mr Eazi bring their own signature swagger to a sinister gqom-inflected banger. “Mood 4 Eva,” featuring A-listers Bey, JAY - Z , and Childish Gambino , flips a sample Malian artist
Oumou Sangaré ’s 1989 Wassoulou song “Diaraby Nene” into a buoyant, hedonistic flex track.