I watched Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”. I get it. Lord, do I get it now. A music-video/film/visual album/confessional/personal diary/love letter is just the kind of epic, genre-breaking work I’ve come to expect from Beyoncé. Maybe someday I’ll be ready to talk about it, but that day is not here yet. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to watch it multiple times, really squeeze that lemon, to get the most out of it. ‘Cuz, Beyoncé killed me and this is actually The Taste Maven’s ghost writing.
In the meantime, if ya’ll are like me (i.e. dead) you might need some other Lemonade-ish to pull you through. Let’s start with the cameos, shall we? I’m not talking about Serena Williams, Zendaya, Chloe and Hall Bailey, Amandla Stenberg, Quvenzhané Wallis, or even Winnie Harlow. I’m talking about the cameo by ballerina Michaela DePrince. DePrince’s life deserves (and is getting) a movie of its own. Therefore my first recommendation is to read her biography, Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina, because YES that is an accurate description of her journey. And what have you done today?
Somali-British poet Warsan Shire doesn’t just write about love and loss. She writes about womanhood, violence against women, refugees, war and the African diaspora. I first learned about her when I spotted some of her poetry being quoted on Tumblr, which LOVES HER. I promptly went out and bought her collection of poetry “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth”, the title of which comes from a Somali proverb. This poetry collection is undoubtedly the most precious collection I will ever own. It is so raw and vulnerable, angry and yet forgiving, that anytime I open it I am overcome. And it is especially fitting that Beyoncé drew inspiration from Warsan’s work, as much of it is about the power-imbalanced love between a woman and a man, between a daughter and a mother, between a mother and her daughter’s father. Warsan is both angry with and proud of her mother, loving her and hating her and forgiving her and asking for forgiveness. The last poem of the collection is short and gut-wrenching, titled In Love and in War:
To my daughter I will say,
‘when the men come, set yourself on fire’.
Here is “For Women Who are Difficult to Love” performed by Warsan Shire. The first time I listened to this I cried. Many of the first lines of spoken word in “Lemonade” are taken from this poem:
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
“Revelations” – Arguably the ballet company’s signature work, it expresses Ailey’s intense feelings for his roots in the South, tying together blues, spirituals, gospel, ragtime and folk songs to manifest the hard life of African-Americans in the south during the Depression:
“Cry” – A three-part ballet Ailey created as a birthday present for his mother in 1971 is set to popular and gospel music by Alice Coltrane, Laura Nyro and Chuck Griffin. It depicts a woman’s journey through the agonies of slavery to an ecstatic state of grace and was dedicated by Ailey to “all black women everywhere…especially our mothers.”
The artist behind the intricate white body paint in the monochrome section entitled Apathy, Nigeria-born Laolu Senbanjo is a Brooklyn-based artist who calls his body painting artworks Sacred Art of the Ori, in reference to Yoruba rituals involving the metaphysical concept of “Ori”. From my limited research, “Ori” translates literally to “head” but is used to mean refer to the spiritual head of human destiny. Check out Laolu’s Instagram here and a time-lapse video of his art application below:
The soul of musical meditation on racial suffering and black existentialism, Nina Simone’s music is featured for only a moment in “Lemonade”. But it’s time for you to look her the fuck up. I’m not talking about the problematic biopic starring light-skinned and marketable Zoe Saldana, who had to use blackface as well as a prosthetic nose in order to portray the darker-skinned Nina Simone. I’m talking about the Nina who was proud to be dark at a time when the “brown paper bag test” (the terrible idea that skin lighter than a brown paper bag is better than those whose skin is darker) was used to determine someone’s attractiveness. Check out her rendition of “I Wish I Knew How it Felt to be Free” and see if you don’t feel something…I dare you:
If you liked this, then I’d also suggest checking out the album “Nina Revisited…A Tribute to Nina Simone”, which features covers of her songs by artists such as Mary J Blige, Jazmine Sullivan, Nina’s daughter Lisa Simone, Common, Lalah Hathaway and Lauryn Hill…which brings us to my next recommendation…
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”. It inspires in me such intense feelings of kinship, admiration and jealousy all at once that it’s a little scary. I hate everyone born after 1998 specifically because they will never appreciate how much the world changed when Lauryn released this album. Try and listen to “Ex-Factor” and not see it’s influence on “Lemonade”:
She kind of dropped off the map for a long time, but she’s back. Here is her contribution to “Nina Revisited” with a cover of Nina’s rendition of “Feeling Good”:
Lauryn also recently started and hosted a music and art series celebrating African and Caribbean music, Diaspora Calling!, featuring Haiti’s Paul Beaubrun and Brother High Full Tempo band, Ghana’s Jojo Abot and Stonebwoy, Nigeria’s Wondaboy and Mr. Eazi, Jamaica’s Stephen Marley, Trinidad and Tobago’s Machel Montano, and the cast of the Broadway musical FELA!, Chop and Quench. And because I love her voice more than I can say, here’s a live performance from her at the Howard Theater last year:
Oshun is an African goddess of love, healing, water, fertility, beauty, music and dance, often characterized as a beautiful woman wearing yellow and surrounded by water. This might sound familiar if you’ve watched “Lemonade”, since in the number “Intuition/Hold Up” Beyoncé saunters down the street in a frothy yellow dress, laughing and smiling over her love’s betrayal.
The musical duo that goes by the name Oshun is made up of Thandiwe and Niambi Sala. They describe themselves as “characterized by soul, hip-hop, community service, love, and dedication to the greater purpose of empowering women, and all people, instilling confidence, cultural pride, and self-respect.” A bit of a run-on sentence, but one that I think Queen Bey would be 100% behind. Their genre of “Iya-Sol”, a refreshing mixture of neo-soul, hip-hop, spiritual, politically conscious rhymes accompanied by jazz piano, can be seen is their video “Stay Woke”:
And if you’re wondering where Beyoncé got the idea for her yellow, Oshun-inspired dress, look no further than their video for “Gyenyame”:
Zora Neale Hurston
A literary figure who made a career of collecting stories of the African diasporic spiritual practices of New Orleans, Hurston is best known as a Harlem renaissance novelist who wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937. But she was also an anthropologist who studied her own culture in a time when anthropologists were expected to only study cultures different from their own. The setting of Their Eyes Were Watching God is based on a town she visited while working with famous anthropologist Franz Boas to collect folk songs and folk tales in the south. And she actually penned the novel while in Haiti researching Obeah practices in the Caribbean. Even if you aren’t in the mood for fiction, Hurston’s collection from her trip in the ’20s Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk-tales from the Gulf States was published posthumously by the Smithsonian.
Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison is probably most famous for her critically acclaimed works like The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved. Her social commentary stood out for her fierce unwillingness to privilege white people in the stories she tells. It seems to me a stance Beyoncé would agree with as there are admirably few white people in “Lemonade”. I say admirably because by not featuring white people, Beyoncé is boldly criticizing the idea that black artists must aspire to appeal to mainstream white audiences to be considered legitimate. For a great interview with Toni Morrison, check this out:
Lastly, I’m going to remind you to check out Yaa Gyasi’s debut-novel Homegoing when it comes out June 7th. You can find my review of it here.