Okay Lions now let’s get in formation! ABC premiered the documentary special “Making The Gift” this Monday, showcasing how Beyoncé came to creating the beautiful tribute album to Africa. The Lion King, which Knowles-Carter starred in as the voice of Nala, was of course the main source of inspiration for the album. Throughout the work, audio clips from the movie work as interludes to the tracks, setting the scene/tone of whatever track is to follow. The purpose of this was to make the whole body of work cohesive, and have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Beyoncé and her team discussed how they didn’t want to “water down” any of the overarching themes and metaphors from the film, both original and remake, and wanted to remain as authentic as possible. They wanted the songs to emulate the same emotions that the characters in the film were emulating during different major plot points. In addition, Beyoncé wanted to make the tracks personal as well, and allow the listener to interpret the music however they wanted.
“I wanted to put everyone on their own journey to link the story line. Each song was written to reflect the film’s storytelling that gives the listener a chance to imagine their own imagery while listening to a new contemporary interpretation. It was important that the music was not only performed by the most interesting and talented artists but also produced by the best African producers. Authenticity and heart were important to me,” said Knowles-Carter in the special.
Beyoncé at The Lion King’s European Premiere
The ability to make an album that is both open for interpretation and meant to coincide with a specific fixed plot is no easy task, however, this is Beyoncé we’re talking about. The impact that this album had on the African American community when it first came out in 1994 was astounding, and the soundtrack had everything to do with that. The original soundtrack to the first animated film was intended to work the same exact way that The Gift did. As each track progresses into the next one, the tone of the music shifts to match the plot. Obviously, Beyoncé wanted to pay homage to the original soundtracks impact while also creating a body of work that completely and unapologetically praised African culture and tradition.
This album was meant to be just as much of a tribute and “love letter” to Africa and its people as it is a movie soundtrack. In order to make sure that they fully embodied Africa’s culture and music, Beyoncé and her team reached out to work with not only African American artists and producers, but also actual African musicians and producers from the continent, who have been raised in traditional African sound and culture. The album as a whole includes artists like Pharrell, Jessie Reyez, Tekno, Yemi Alade, Mr. Eazi, Burna Boy, Salatiel, SAINt JHN, WizKid, Tiwa Savage, Shatta Wale, Tierra Whack, Busiswa, Moonchild Sanelly, and 070 Shake.
“This soundtrack is a love letter to Africa, and 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. We’ve kind of created our own genre, and I feel like the soundtrack, it becomes visual in your mind. It’s a soundscape. It’s more than just the music because each song tells the story of the film,” Beyoncé said during an interview with Good Morning America.
Beyoncé and Blue Ivy at The Lion King’s US Premiere
Fans were also treated to plenty of footage of the entire Knowles-Carter family, including husband Jay-Z and twins Rumi and Sir Carter. The documentary special followed the family as they journeyed to parts of Africa, such as Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya, in order to get inspiration for the album, and so the family could really connect to their ancestry.
Of course, Blue Ivy, Beyoncé’s first born daughter, was also in the documentary and even had her own mini segment. Beyoncé’s children we’re a major inspiration for the album in general, since a general theme of the movie is remembering your roots (family and culture). Blue Ivy even recorded a sample chorus for the track “BROWN SKIN GIRL,” which has become one of the most popular songs on the album, as an empowering anthem about the importance of embracing Brown Skin, regardless of what society tells you.
The empowering message for all minorities is so clear and beautiful, Beyoncé truly topped herself yet again with this body of work. The documentary concluded with Beyoncé discussing the final track and music video on the album titled “SPIRIT”, the visual and lyrical metaphors being the strongest within this track.
“The concept of the video is to show how God is the painter and natural beauty in nature needs no art direction. It’s the beauty of color, the beauty of melanin, the beauty of tradition. It was important that throughout this body of work we weren’t just inspired by Africa but that we actually included and learned from the motherland.”
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.