AMERICAN superstar Beyoncé’s latest album, Lemonade, was released on April 23, and has been trending ever since as it unpacks the sheer, raw emotion of a woman living in a patriarchal society.
Something that was quickly picked up and started spreading like wildfire on social media is that once again Beyonce has paid tribute to African art, this time using African poetry and imagery in her album.
At the end of Lemonade, Beyoncé paid tribute to Warsan Shire, the Kenya-born, Somali-British poet whose prose is read throughout the film.
Throughout the album, serving as interludes between songs, there are adapted lines from several of Shire’s poems, including “The Unbearable Weight of Staying,” “Dear Moon,” “How to Wear Your Mother’s Lipstick,” and “Nail Technician as Palm Reader”. It also features snippets from Shire’s poem “For Women Who Are Difficult to Love,” which was made into a digital short film several years ago.
But it isn’t Lemonade that defines Shire’s career, she has been an internationally travelling poet long before with poems that have appeared in Poetry Review, Wasafiri, Magma, and in anthologies “The Salt Book of Younger Poets” (Salt, 2011) and “Ten: The New Wave” (Bloodaxe, 2014). She was London’s first-ever Young Poet Laureate in 2014, having published her first book of poems, “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth”, in 2011. She has also received various awards for her art. In April 2013, she was presented with Brunel University’s inaugural African Poetry Prize.
Shire isn’t the only African connection in Beyonce’s album.
The album also showcased the work of Laolu Senbanjo, a Nigerian artist whose scene-stealing expressive body art made a few appearances with body-painted dancers in his signature afromysterics style. His Yoruba-influenced markings even adorn Beyoncé.
Senbanjo’s “The Sacred Art of the Ori” is his expression of art that is “physically drawing what’s on the inside, what’s in your soul, and your essence and being; on your canvas which is the skin.”
This isn’t the first time Beyonce’s album has served as a vehicle for greater exposure for African artists - in her fifth studio album, released in December 2013, Beyoncé introduced her fanbase to the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.