Beyoncé has released her seventh solo studio album, titled “Renaissance” (2022). A global pop culture event, the album is the first of a three-part project for the American artist. Her previous outing, the visual album Black is King (2020), worked with many African artists. The Renaissance pays homage to black dance music and again invites African artists, including Nigerian singer-songwriter Temes, who is having a global moment of her own.
Historically, the Renaissance (starting in the 1400s) was marked by a period of stagnation in which European culture and scholarship were reborn and renewed. Today, art—painting, music, fashion—still influences how people dress and behave, what they choose to post and talk about, and how they see themselves and society.
Over the past three decades, Beyoncé has played a major role in shaping global popular culture. She continually empowers listeners and sparks debate, and her lyrics are often quoted in discussions of social issues. Her take on monogamy on the album Dangerously in Love (2003), for example, provides a counter-narrative to the patriarchal depiction of hypersexuality in black women.
In Lemonade (2016), Beyoncé used a genre of music that exceeded expectations for a black female artist. In the process, she challenged the discrimination she faced. On Black is King, she reflects on the resurgence of African art forms at a time when cultural norms dominated by Western ideas are in decline and the African star is on the rise in pop culture.
In this piece, I argue that throughout her career, Beyoncé has contributed to the updating of various narratives in popular music, and in the process made meaningful engagement with African culture and music.
Beyoncé has involved several African artists in her projects and has introduced them to international audiences on several occasions. Before Black was King, which included Kenyan-born Warsan Shire’s Lemonade poetry, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s quote in Flawless (2013), and Mozambican dance group Tofo Tofo’s choreography in Run the World (Girls) video.
Although not as prominent as in Black is King, Beyoncé has also incorporated African artists into the Renaissance, notably in the song Move, which has an Afrobeats style and features P2J (Nigeria) and GuiltyBeatz (Ghana) as producers , and Tems as a writer and performer.
Tems (Temilade Openiyi) is a multi-talented singer who also writes songs and rose to fame after being featured in Essence (2020) by Nigerian star singer WizKid. Her recordings include music in different genres, including alternative R&B, new soul, and Afro-pop. Her debut single, Mr Rebel (2018), showcased her R&B talents (both as a producer and singer), while her 2021 feature on Canadian rapper Drake’s Fountains showcases her ability to convey emotion through her voice.
Tems’ name was on everyone’s lips following the release of the trailer for the sequel to the Black Panther movie, set on the cover of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry. Through her unique musical style, she has contributed to updating perceptions of Afro-pop and commercial African music and its popularity worldwide.
black is king
I believe that when Black people tell our own stories, we can change the axis of the world and tell our true history of generational wealth and soul-richness that is not in our history books. – Beyonce
Beyoncé’s last album, Black is King, celebrated African heritage with a “modern twist.” For the visual album, she incorporates pan-African-style shots and incorporates elements from several African countries. Working with a variety of African actors, directors, designers, choreographers and musicians, she highlights the continent’s diversity.
Audiences are exposed to African elements, from music genres like Afrobeats (Nigeria) and gqom (South Africa) to popular dance styles like Network (Ghana) and Kpakujemu (Nigeria). There are also landscape visuals of the entire continent.
It must not be mistaken for Beyoncé to be the original creator of these elements, nor even to popularize them. They existed and were appreciated long before she started filming. However, because of her platform as an international star, one cannot deny that Beyonce has played a major role in bringing these elements to the forefront of global pop culture.
Furthermore, the visual album more accurately depicts the African continent and its diversity than other works that have adopted African labels in global popular culture. Black is King ushered in a revival of African images in mass media and empowered many Africans and blacks as they finally felt more represented in mainstream mass culture.
Beyoncé once again incorporates updated elements in the Renaissance. Through the 16 tracks on the album, she takes listeners on a journey with the clear intention of creating a safe space free from judgment, perfectionism and overthinking. Listeners can tap into 1970s Studio 54 disco-era music and easily transition to more modern pop, R&B and house genres.
Early disco music was influenced by the funk, soul and jazz of the late 1960s and combined these styles with technologies such as synthesizers, multitrack recording and drum machines. This creates a lavish and decadent dance-oriented pop form characterized by steady beats and prominent, high-pitched, and reverberating vocals. The genre peaked between 1975 and early 1979, with artists such as Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor dominating the charts.
In the aptly titled Renaissance, Beyoncé brought the style back to the forefront of pop culture, introducing it to many young listeners. From the beginning of the lead single “Break My Soul,” listeners were exposed to the album’s ubiquitous dance pop and house style. Beyoncé has successfully combined music genres such as pop, electro house, Afrobeats, trap and soul with various disco influences. Through the lyrics on the album, a general feeling of self-love and pride is depicted. This is similar to the music of Brenda Fassie (1964-2004), one of the most prominent pop artists in South Africa and the African continent.
Throughout her career, the disco and pop music produced by Fassie, one of the queens of Afro-pop, has been influenced by her township roots. Her signature music tells the stories of black South Africans during apartheid South Africa.
When considering how pop music has become the site of social change in popular culture, it’s clear that Beyoncé plays a key role in shaping some of the popular social thinking.
Read more: This is Beyonce’s world.we just live in it
Throughout her career, her music has challenged and updated various narratives in the pop music industry.
Her work serves as a platform for African artists on the global stage, using various musical genres as a way to combat perceptions of black female musicians. Her latest album continues to do just that by introducing a contemporary disco revival to new listeners.