Now that she’s got your attention ...

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BEY­ONCÉ’S NEW AL­BUM BLACK IS KING

National Post (National Edition) - - ARTS & LIFE - SO­NIA RAO

Bey­oncé Knowles-Carter re­leased Black Is King in the wee hours of Fri­day morning, roughly one month after pub­licly an­nounc­ing that she had shot a com­pan­ion piece to her orig­i­nal mu­sic re­leased along­side the live-ac­tion Lion King film last year. The new vis­ual al­bum, stream­ing on Dis­ney+, is “meant to cel­e­brate the breadth and beauty of Black an­ces­try,” she stated in that an­nounce­ment.

The singer re­searched and worked on the project over the course of a year, col­lab­o­rat­ing with other Black artists around the globe. She joined forces with nu­mer­ous di­rec­tors to shoot mu­sic videos for the tracks from The Lion King: The Gift, and en­listed some of the Nige­rian, South African, Ghana­ian, Cameroo­nian and Amer­i­can artists fea­tured in the mu­sic to ap­pear in its vis­ual coun­ter­part as well.

For those who haven’t yet caught Black Is King, here’s what to know about Bey­oncé’s lat­est work.

Q What is Black Is King?

A Black Is King is Bey­oncé’s lat­est vis­ual al­bum, a ta­pes­try of mu­sic videos for The Lion King: The Gift, an al­bum ac­com­pa­ny­ing last year’s live-ac­tion film. The 85-minute piece draws from the reimag­ined Dis­ney clas­sic both in its story, loosely following a young boy’s mat­u­ra­tion and search for iden­tity, and in the lit­eral sense, fea­tur­ing voice-overs from Mu­fasa, Simba and other char­ac­ters in the movie.

The vis­ual al­bum, which was shot in lo­cales around the world — Dis­ney lists South Africa, Bel­gium and West African coun­tries, as well as New York, Los An­ge­les and Lon­don — ex­plores the mean­ing of legacy and cel­e­brates cul­tures and cus­toms that bring the Black di­as­pora to­gether: “Black is the colour of my true love’s skin,” Bey­oncé says early on. “Coils and hair catching cen­turies of prayers spread through a smoke. You are wel­come to come home to your­self. Let Black be syn­ony­mous with glory.”

Cer­tain mo­ments fo­cus on the Black Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence, such as the in­clu­sion of an Amer­i­can flag with its stars and stripes re­painted in black, red and green — colours from the Pan-African flag. At one point, a male voice-over com­ments on an iden­tity strug­gle ex­pe­ri­enced by the Amer­i­can de­scen­dants of en­slaved peo­ple from Africa: “When it’s all said and done, I don’t even know my own na­tive tongue,” he says. “And if I can’t speak my­self, I can’t think my­self. And if I can’t think my­self, I can’t be my­self. But if I can’t be my­self, I will never know me. So, Un­cle Sam, tell me this: If I will never know me, how can you?”

Q How can I watch it?

A Black Is King is stream­ing on Dis­ney+.

Q Did we know this was hap­pen­ing?

A Yes. Bey­oncé up­loaded a minute-long trailer for Black Is King along­side the June an­nounce­ment, in which she wrote that “the events of 2020 have made the film’s vi­sion and mes­sage even more rel­e­vant.

“We are all in search of safety and light,” she con­tin­ued. “Many of us want change. I be­lieve that when Black peo­ple tell our own sto­ries, we can shift the axis of the world and tell our REAL his­tory of gen­er­a­tional wealth and rich­ness of soul that are not told in our his­tory books.”

Beyond that mes­sage, Dis­ney re­leased a second trailer for the film early last week. The lead-up to Black Is King strays from what has become the norm for Bey­oncé, an artist who, since sur­prise-drop­ping her self-ti­tled al­bum in 2013, has tended to shroud her work in se­crecy. The vis­ual al­bums for Bey­oncé and 2016’s Lemon­ade have been cred­ited with rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing how the mu­sic in­dus­try ap­proaches re­leases.

Q Who else had a hand in creat­ing the vis­ual al­bum?

A While Bey­oncé is the first di­rec­tor to ap­pear in the cred­its for Black Is King, she is joined by sev­eral oth­ers, in­clud­ing Em­manuel Ad­jei, Blitz Baza­wule, Pierre De­buss­chere, Jenn Nkiru, Ibra Ake, Dikayl Rim­masch, Jake Nava and Kwasi Ford­jour, the last of whom she has col­lab­o­rated with many times be­fore. (Ford­jour and two oth­ers, Dafe Oboro and Ju­lian Klincewicz, are de­scribed as co-di­rec­tors.)

Some of the artists fea­tured on The Lion King:

The Gift are only heard in the film, such as Ken­drick La­mar and Child­ish Gam­bino, oth­ers also ap­pear in per­son. Nige­rian singer Burna Boy per­forms JA ARA E on cam­era, for in­stance, as Cameroo­nian per­former Salatiel and Amer­i­can pro­ducer Phar­rell Wil­liams do with WA­TER. Ghana­ian singer Shatta Wale shows up for the AL­READY video, which Bey­oncé also re­leased on YouTube. Nige­rian artists Te­kno, Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi ap­pear for DON’T JEAL­OUS ME.

Black Is King is a fam­ily af­fair. Bey­oncé’s hus­band, Jay-Z, is fea­tured on MOOD 4 EVA and shows up for that por­tion of the vis­ual al­bum. Their elder daugh­ter, Blue Ivy, ap­pears through­out — most mem­o­rably dur­ing BROWN SKIN GIRL, stand­ing along­side her mother, lit­tle sis­ter Rumi and grand­mother Tina Knowles-Law­son. The en­tire film is dedicated to Sir Carter, Rumi’s twin brother.

Lupita Ny­ong’o, Naomi Camp­bell and Kelly Row­land also ap­pear for BROWN SKIN GIRL.

Q How has it been re­ceived so far?

A There was some back­lash to Black Is King be­fore its re­lease, most of which char­ac­ter­ized the de­pic­tions of the dif­fer­ent African cul­tures as stereo­typ­i­cal. Knowles-Law­son, Bey­oncé’s mother, de­fended her daugh­ter on In­sta­gram, shar­ing another post de­scrib­ing the re­search Bey­oncé did for the project.

On the whole, pub­lic reactions to Black Is King seem to be pos­i­tive. Writ­ing for The Guardian, Chanté Joseph gave the “love song to the Black di­as­pora” four out of five stars, say­ing that it was worth the wait. Jeremy Hel­li­gar stated in Va­ri­ety that, while it isn’t per­fect, the film “ex­cels as a cel­e­bra­tion of Black­ness in its many forms: Black women, Black men, Black chil­dren, Black moth­er­hood, Black fa­ther­hood, Black pasts, Black presents, and Black fu­tures.” Je­nessa Wil­liams wrote for NME that Bey­oncé’s de­ci­sion to el­e­vate other artists demon­strates “the value of hear­ing from black voices not only when they are in cri­sis, but when they are thriv­ing.”

TRAVIS MATTHEWS / PARK­WOOD EN­TER­TAIN­MENT / DIS­NEY+

Bey­oncé’s new vis­ual al­bum is a com­pan­ion piece to the mu­sic she cre­ated for The Lion King.

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