By Yinka Olatunbosun
Taken off the “Black is King” visual album, the song “Already’’ by the American singer Beyonce and Ghanaian King of Dancehall, Shatta Wale leaves some steam in its trail. The “Already” video was number one on trending videos on Youtube in its first week of release, generating mixed reactions from music fans across the globe. Beyonce strikes a high note on wider appeal by tapping into the creative energy from contemporary Africa. As many hail her marketing strategy, it is clear that Beyonce is recreating the African narrative through her music. As a strong artist, keen on message lyricism, her experimental music has been building momentum for black consciousness starting with her song “Formation” that took the viewer through a visual journey through New Orleans in the critically acclaimed album, “Lemonade.”
Over two decades, Beyonce’s music has grown from call and response to historical material and documentation. The true fans of Beyonce’s music are not the kind that are looking for just some form of entertainment but are avid students of history. Queen Bee is not negotiating her place in history for rave sales. Instead, she is curating a body of works that bridges the generational gap in black education and inspire conversation among music critics.
One of the greatest criticisms against “Already’’ video is that it reinforces the negative stereotype that Africa is primitive. The post-colonial Africa has experienced enormous socio-economic changes that reflect the adoption and absorption of western values, though not in its entirety. African cultural landscape had become very similar with western culture in the area of fashion, music, food, nightlife and aspects of technology. So, there is a tendency for urbanized Africans to think in such restrictive way. The truth is that most villages in Africa still retain the realities portrayed in media culture. For instance, many villagers still go to the forest to fetch firewood, hunt for animals, clad in wrappers amongst others. Perhaps it is the near-masquerade depiction of the African that often leaves Africans aggrieved.
African cinema may have contributed to this negative stereotype with the production of bush man films that fail to address the real contemporary issues in Africa. For instance, the 1980 comedy, “The Gods Must Be Crazy” shot in South Africa in the heat of Apartheid was criticized for not addressing the dehumanizing conditions of blacks in Apartheid South Africa.
Again, some critics argued that Beyonce is romanticizing Africa with the royalty portrayals; that Africa does not have to be “king’’ to be respected. Let’s not forget that the early stages of world civilization are traceable to Africa, Egypt to be precise. And when you look at the pyramids of Egypt and other artefacts, royalty wouldn’t be just a mental construct in the mind of a dreamer. Also, Beyonce’s persona in music is legendary; inevitably, her music videos mirror this. Beyonce is a pop diva, a queen.
Back to the subject at hand-the opening scene in Beyonce and Shatta Wale’s “Already” video presents the viewer with green-painted young black men, not savages, with a voice over dialogue. The conversation is presumably about African roots. Beyonce’s inquisitive journey to African roots was seen in the video to her Grammy-nominated song, “Hold Up’’ released in 2016. With visual reference to Osun, the river goddess, “Hold Up” is a major contribution to the Lemonade album, making it one of the best critical works in urban contemporary music.
As for the collaboration with Shatta Wale, the “Already’’ video is shot like the regular pop music visuals from Africa with Beyonce showing off some popular dance steps like “Gbese”. Beyonce’s embrace of Afrobeats naturally propels the popularity of the music genre that is engulfing the cultural space in the west. That said, the loudest noise of disapproval may have come from the place of ignorance of Beyonce’s antecedents in chronicling her African and black identity.