Following in the footsteps of Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panthere, Beyonce has released a 14-track album to accompany Disney’s remake of The Lion King.
“This is sonic cinema”, said the star, who plays Nala in the film, as she announced the record, called The Gift.
Many of her collaborators are familiar – from Jay-Z and Pharrel to her Lion King co-star Childish Gambino.
But the album also highlights artists and producers from Africa, who rarely get mainstream exposure in the West.
Among them are Nigerian stars Wizkid and Tiwa Savage, South Africa’s Moonchild Sanelly and Ghana’s Shatta Wale; while the record features lyrics in Swahili, Yoruba and Afrikaans, amongst others.
“I wanted to make sure we found the best talent from Africa, and not just use some of the sounds and did my interpretation of it”, the star told ABC News ahead of the record’s release.
“I wanted it to be authentic to what is beautiful about the music in Africa”.
The Gift is a companion piece to the official Lion King soundtrack, featuring songs inspired by the story and its setting rather than new interpretations of Circle of Life or Hakuna Matata.
And the album is unmistakable a Beyonce hangout: The star appears on all but four of the songs, and her lyrical preoccupations – motherhood, female empowerment, the general awesomeness of Beyonce – get more prominence than The Lion King itself.
Song directly inspired by the film include the light – ffoted Find Your Way Back, in which Mufasa passes on fatherly advice to a young Simba; and Otherside, a quietly-turbulent ballad about the King’s death, which features a brief callback to Beyonce’s megahit Halo.
African chants and rhythms are woven into the fabric of the album, lending it a melodic warmth that was missing from the star’s last project, Everything is Love.
Like the record, this is a family affair, with Beyonce’s husband Jay-Z referencing Nelson Mandela and Fela Kuti on the Braggadocious Mood 4 Eva; and her 7-year-old daughter Blue Ivy getting her first writing credit on Brown Skin Girl.
The latter song, with its message of black pride (“your skin is not only dark, it shines and it tells your story”) bears the least thematic relevance to The Lion King, but the compelling vocal and syncopated clicks-and-sticks rhythm make it an undeniable highlight.
The final track is The Lion King’s Oscar-baiting new ballad, Spirit, which premiered earlier this week with a lavish, spiritual video filmed at Arizona’s Havasu Falls.
A powerful Beyonce solo number, it opens with a Swahili chant “Uishi kwa muda mrefu mfalme” (long live the king) – but quickly falls back on musical theatre cliché, right down to final chorus’s forced key change. g