28 April 2016
With everyone talking about Beyoncé’s visual album, lemonade, focusing on how good it is and how diverse it is or how it reveals a thing or two about her marriage to Jay Z, most people have forgotten or have chosen to ignore a part of her aesthetics taken from African Culture. The album, lemonade is itself loaded with liberal symbolism and makes references to racial politics and Black Nationalist feminism.
It features the mothers of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin — an overt tribute to the patron saints of the Black Lives Matter movement. But the album, lemonade transcends this. It also uses aesthetics from Africa. Critics have paid particular attention to this. They have noted the influence of African traditions and contemporary artists in her work.
It is not news that Beyoncé draws inspiration from Africa.
– In her 2011 album, she featured dancers from the Mozambican dance crew, Tofu Tofu. She dances the energetic Pantsula dance with them in the video for her hit song, Run the World. Pantsula is a dance style that originated in South Africa’s segregated townships in the 1980s.
– In her 2013 album in the song, Flawless, Beyoncé sampled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on feminism. She also gave the Nigerian author a featured credit on the track.
In Lemonade, she also drew inspiration from Africa. Here is how:
– In the videos, cultural extracts from the Yoruba tribe significantly came together to create Beyoncé’s costumes. She dresses up in Ankara and other African traditional clothes. In several scenes she wears a voluminous, antebellum-styled dress made of bright, multi-coloured geometric African prints.
– Beyoncé gives African artists recognition in this visual album. In the track titled, Sorry, dancers in a bus sitting in a straight line are covered in the sophisticated patterns of Nigerian artist Laolu Senbanjo. These patterns also draw largely from the Yoruba Tradition. The patterns are what Senbanjo calls “Afromysterics,” a term he coined in 2007 meaning “the mystery of the African thought pattern.” Born in Ilorin, Nigeria, and now based in Brooklyn, New York, Senbanjo relies on Yoruba tradition for his very modern work. A former human rights lawyer, Senbanjo says his art also draws on feminism and his work with women and children.
– It is also said that she portrayed the Yoruba goddess, Oshun. Oshun is the orisa of fresh water, sensuality, flirtatiousness, feminine sexuality, love and fertility. Oshun is beneficent and generous, and very kind. She does, have a malevolent and tempestuous temper, although it is difficult to anger her. The yellow dress Beyoncé wears is more than just a piece of clothing. It has been said that she was channeling the Yoruba goddess. The dress was designed by Peter Dundas.
– While braids and afros are no longer the reserve of Africans, the manner in which they are styled on Beyoncé and her cast in several videos on the album are undeniably completely African, even in modern times. “Sorry,” for example, sees her dancers don such hairstyles in the bus scene and towards the end of the same video, Beyoncé’s hair is styled after the ancient Egyptian Queen, Nefertiti.