Last week (July 19), Beyoncé released The Lion King: The Gift, a work inspired by (and featuring audio clips from) her recent voice work in the recent hit remake of the ‘90s Disney classic. Tapping into the motherland, Beyoncé recruited African artists such as Wizkid, Burna Boy and Yemi Alade for her latest masterwork.
“The soundtrack is a love letter to Africa,” Beyoncé expressed in an interview with ABC. “I wanted to make sure we found the best talent from Africa, and not just use some of the sounds.”
The Afrobeats genre getting such an endorsement from one of the biggest recording artists in the world is a big deal — though top African artists have already had their fair share of international success, even before the recent fascination with the genre seen from American stars like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Beyoncé. Artists like D’Banj, whose hit “Oliver Twist” debuted at No. 9 on the U.K. singles chart, have successfully broken the international market. You can also find artists like Wizkid, Davido and Burna Boy selling out thousand-seat arenas stateside, performing on American late-night shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, or receiving awards at the live telecast of the BET awards for best international artist.
Beyoncé was brilliant to get the authentic sounds from the source, instead of attempting to clone it. Understanding the value of authenticity allows artists from African culture to tell their story, their way — in a full body of work, dedicated wholly to Afrobeats. Below, some of the African artists featured on The Gift share their experience and journey throughout the process with Billboard. Those artists are:
Yemi Alade: Don’t Jealous Me (Composer, Lyricist, Associated Performer), My Power (Lyricist, Re-Mixer)
Tekno: Don’t Jealous Me (Composer, Lyricist, Associated Performer)
Busiswa: My Power (Composer, Lyricist, Re-Mixer)
Raye: Bigger (Lyricist, Composer)
DJ Lag: My Power (Producer, Re-Mixer)
Abisagboola “Bankulli” Oluseu: Find Your Way Back (Composer, Lyricist), Otherside (Composer, Lyricist)
Billboard: What are your thoughts on the surge and rise of afrobeats in recent times?
Busiswa: The world has been sleeping on Africa. I love the surge, as it changes the music industry’s outlook for any artist in Africa. Our goal is to make music that reaches the world, and not just for our continent. Every single person on this album delivered on a world stage.
Bankulli: Afrobeats as a music genre is one of the fastest-growing music genre in the world.Some of us as culture custodians are looking for ways to integrate Afrobeats into other cultures as we can’t grow in isolation. The goal is to increase the reach. Beyoncé exposing the genre to a wider audience is phenomenal. Labels and artists would now have that extra jilt of confidence in pushing their songs and artists forward.
Tekno: I’m very excited, and happy to be here for it and also be a part of it, as my goal is to have a singing career till I’m grey and old. I’ve produced and written some of the biggest songs from Africa to date. The sky is only the beginning.
Raye: Nothing makes me happier. I am in Ghana at least once a year writing and creating. The energy is so pure and the groove of the music is incomparable. I am so happy Afrobeats is being put on the worldwide map and getting the love it deserves.
You recently worked with Beyoncé on her The Gift album. How did that come about?
DJ Lag: I guess it all started with Beyonce playing one my tracks, “Trip to New York”, during her set at Global Citizen Johannesburg. After that, Kwasi Fordjour from her Parkwood team reached out. He was looking at finding authentic African sounds and artists to work with on “a project,” so I sent over some tracks, Gqom to be specific. I tried not to get too excited, as the likelihood of this coming through was, I guess, pretty small. Knowing that my music was being listened by and considered by the world’s biggest artist was a huge honor in itself.
Yemi Alade: I was invited by her team over to her Parkwood studio in LA. Unfortunately, I landed in L.A. with a cold, with no singing voice and barely any speaking voice. After 24 hours of Vitamin C shots, teas, and all the tricks to voice recovery, my voice was back. I recorded a couple of songs and two of the songs made it to the album. What a time to be alive. I have always prayed to be ready for opportunities like this.
How do you think this album impacts the Afrobeats culture and African entertainment scene as a whole?
Raye: I think it’s phenomenal that Beyonce paid homage and highlighted Africa. Afrobeats already existed in the world, but she essentially brought Afrobeats to the rest of the world.
Tekno: I believe it puts that big stamp of approval on Afrobeats by a world-renowned artist. Afrobeats has always been dope, and we’ve been selling out venues. This is that extra stamp for the latecomers.
What was your most memorable experience throughout the process of The Gift?
Raye: I’ve gotten to connect and reconnect with so many amazing souls. The creation of “Bigger” was bigger than anything I could have imagined. Derek Dixie produced it and my sister, Stacy Barthe, began the vibe, and I walked in and connected immediately. I co-wrote the rest of the song along with Stacy, Akil “Fresh” King and Richard Lawson.
Yemi Alade: I loved the atmosphere and creative space. The Parkwood team treated us like the royalty that we are. Also, knowing that the album was part of the Lion King movie and allowing it to consume every atom of authenticity it requires was a moment to be proud of.
Raye, on your Instagram, you posted a moment at the U.K. premiere with you and Beyonce on the red carpet. What was the conversation and how was that moment for you?
Raye: Beyonce told me that “Bigger” was going to be the first [full] track on the album, and that she shot a video. I was so excited because of all that was involved. I was so honored to be a part of something that meant so much to all of us.
What was it like meeting Beyonce at the U.K. premiere of The Lion King?
Yemi Alade: It’s Queen B, I was excited! Glad I kept my cool. [Laughs.] It was like we had met before, she was so gracious and kind in words. I tried to be in the moment as it’s very possible to get lost from too much excitement.
What did the Lion King movie mean to you growing up?
Busiswa: We all watched The Lion King growing up. It’s tied to our history, and surely is a part of our DNA. It meant a lot to me then, and even more now than ever, as it seems to have traced itself back to its roots.
Yemi Alade: The Lion King was the movie almost every kid from my generation watched, and my favorite song on there was “Hakuna Matata.”
Where do you see Afrobeats going, five years from now?
Raye: The Afro frequency is infectious. It’s about to infect the world. Beyoncé is the perfect conduit. The combination of The Lion King and African artists and producers make for something that already has rocked the world to make an even bigger impact.
Are there any upcoming releases you would like to share?
Busiswa: I have a single coming out shortly with DJ Tunez, and an album in September.
Tekno: I may potentially release a single in August. My album is in the works.
Raye: My single is dropping in August! This is such a special song for me and I can’t wait to share! I’m also working with David Guetta and Normani, and really digging into both of their projects.
Yemi Alade: My album Woman of Steel is done. I can’t wait to share with the world. It’s not just a compilation of songs, it’s a piece of me, and a symbol of where I am now, and how I realized that I could be my own superhero.
DJ Lag: I recently released an EP with Okzharp through Hyperdub Records. The EP is called Steam Rooms.
Bankulli: I have a project in the works called Chronicles of Afrobeats, and also working on a collaborative project with the King of Fuji, Wasiu Kwam 1.
DJ Soupamodel is a Music Supervisor, Africa’s first female DJ, and top influencer in the music industry, building awareness of the African music culture worldwide and globally.