By Bernard Dayo
Beyonce, who is arguably the most deified, pregnant-with-twins female celebrity on the planet, hosted close friends and family to her second baby shower at a private residence in Beverly Hills this past Saturday. Dubbed as the Carter Push Party, it was attended by Jay Z (of course), Serena Williams (who is also pregnant but not as deified as Beyonce and only gets vilified in the media for being terrific at tennis), Beyonce’s former Destiny’s Child bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, Tina Knowles, Solange, and a host of others.
But what was particularly interesting—and troubling—about the baby shower was the African theme behind it. African dancers, African drummers, African-inspired décor, African furniture, African textiles. In a video that I saw, there was, unmistakably, Fela’s music playing in the background. It felt organic yet disturbingly unsettling. After Saturday, Beyonce posted a snap of her outfit on Instagram, looking lovely in an African dress and a headscarf.
The problem with the baby shower isn’t with the excessiveness of African aesthetics, but with the fact that Beyonce, for a long time, has a reputation for appropriating/incorporating African elements into her art but tweaking it to suit her own unique aesthetic. Yes, she’s an African American, her ancestors originated from Africa and were brought as slaves into America. This account is a well-told one, popularisd by African American activists on Twitter who are extremely disgruntled with anti-black violence and police brutality in America. Beyonce’s Africanness,” though valid, comes with a privilege insulation owing to her American identity which places her on higher level in the hierarchy of black power or blackness. Her black experience, certainly, will be starkly different from native Africans who have spent their entire lives in Africa, Africans who have had to deal with negative, harmful African stereotypes and all sort of one-sided, white people-concocted narratives from trips to “Africa.”
Beyonce’s fascination with Fela goes back to the Broadway hit Fela, with Jay Z as one of its producers. There, perhaps, she was inspired by the production to make her fourth album 4 full of afrobeat references. Her song, End of Time, had an urgent, repetitive afrobeat drum element laced with her airy vocals. The video for Run the World, which opens with a near-futuristic, droughty-looking environment, features male dances and Beyonce dancing to an African-influenced beat. The album, on the whole, was Fela-inspired, and I thought, at the time, that it was a one-off, dismissible thing.
In her video for Sorry, from her last album Lemonade, Beyonce is seen with white-stripped paint across her face, and a bus with a group of women with the same white paint but delicately intricate, an ode to Fela’s backup dancers. She does this at will, enriching her art whenever it is convenient and not taking into consideration that she is culturally appropriating the essence and identity of native black people, especially Nigerians.
African Americans are always quick to moan about cultural appropriation when white women grandstand with their hair done in cornrows and put pictures on Instagram. They are quick to point out how African American women can’t wear their nappy hair and god-given dreads with a sense of pride in a white-favoured society that deems it as dirty, unkempt, and unprofessional. They are quick to point out many things that don’t go their way because of their race, and how white people are benefitting from the cultural value that makes them who they are.
I doubt if Beyonce can fully identify with being African other than her inspirations from Fela Kuti, an afrobeat pioneer and legend from Nigeria. It’s seems that’s the root source, one that is harmful and doesn’t do native Africans any particular favour.