Why Beyoncé's celebration of black girl magic will resonate longer than any Grammy Award
'Beyoncé empowers black women to become more clearly themselves'
I think it's safe to say that if last Sunday were Beyoncé's final performance of her career, we'd all be left feeling satisfied. From the moment images of herself, her mother Tina Knowles and her daughter Blue Ivy flashed across the screen (arguably in reference to the Holy Trinity), it was clear that Queen Bey did not come to play with us. "Do you remember being born?" she asked the mesmerized Grammy Award audience, a question that that only the mother with three hearts could pose.
Across an elaborate stage set showered in flowers, a multitude of dancers lined beside and in front of her as a live band played backstage and Beyoncé graced us with her maternal essence. Walking across a petal-splattered table that resembled something out of da Vinci's "The Last Supper," dancers fell at her feet. She defied gravity as she leaned back on a throne-like chair, effortlessly singing "you're my lifeline and you're trying to kill me" while her unborn twins kicked around in her stomach.
If ever there were a moment in television that exhibited literal black girl magic, it was this. There, in front of a live audience in the LA Staples Center, Beyoncé brought the magic of Lemonade to life. For those who haven't seen Lemonade or understand the cultural references of Beyoncé's performance, I can see why some would want to reduce the performance to narcissism or a conflated ego. But for myself and other members of the Beyhive, it took us all of two seconds to realize just who the 22-time Grammy Award winner was channeling.
Queen Bey's sparkling golden gown was an ode to Oshun (also known as Osun), Yoruba water goddess of love and fertility. We'd seen Beyoncé draw direct reference to Oshun before when she emerged from a wave of water as the angry water goddess in her "Hold Up" music video from Lemonade as well. In her performance, she also pays homage to other religious deities such as West African water spirit Mami Wata, The Virgin Mary, Hindu goddess Kali (associated with death and maternal love) and Roman goddess Venus (associated with love, sex, and beauty).
This wasn't the first time that Bey has channeled otherworldly elements in her work. Both she and Jay-Z have referenced Roman mythology in their music before, with Beyoncé appearing on Jay-Z's "Venus vs. Mars" track on The Blueprint 3. Beyoncé's music has also drawn on obvious African influences in the past, with "Grown Woman" appearing as a bonus feature on her last self-titled album.
Her Grammys performance came just days after she'd shut the internet down with the announcement of her twin pregnancy. Soon after, her website was filled with stunning underwater images of a floating Beyoncé swathed in yellow and red cloth.
"in the dream i am crowning," her site reads. "osun, nefertiti and yemoja pray around my bed."
To say Beyoncé's maternity photos were a dream would be an understatement. The singer once again referenced goddess Venus as well as Yemoja (or Yemaya), another Yoruba water goddess and mother of orishas, with written words from British-Somali poet Warsan Shire (whose work also appeared in Lemonade). Prior to this, we'd seen a re-emergence of pro-black militancy in Beyoncé's work. From the initial release of her "Formation" music video to her Black Panther-esque attire at last year's Super Bowl, we're now seeing an artist who's unafraid to be utterly and unapologetically black.
Beyoncé consciously gives black women around the world permission to venture into their roots, harness the beauty and power of the goddesses before them and draw on their strength through her art.- Lindsey Addawoo
As a black Canadian woman of African descent, I could not be more proud. It's refreshing to see an artist seek out memorable African elements and use them into her work — especially on such a mainstream scale. What truly set Lemonade apart from previous bodies of work was her incorporation of histories that have slipped under the radar for quite some time, such as the early 20th century story "Daughters of the Dust," which tells the tales of the Gullah community of coastal South Carolina.
But perhaps what makes Beyoncé so remarkable is her dedication to cultural authenticity behind the camera as well. She's made it a point to hire and work with black women behind the scenes, from her lead dancers to her production designers to the Nigerian visual artists whose sacred traditional work appears in her videos. Her own maternity shots were done by Ethiopian-born photographer Awol Erizku.
Unlike most African-Americans distanced from their African roots from slavery, a large part of Canada's black community (specifically in Toronto) consists of second-generation Africans or West Indians of African descent. Though the transatlantic slave trade affected (and continues to affect) those at all ends of the diaspora, the majority of us black Torontonians are in a close enough proximity to understand our ancestral heritage. Beyoncé's work is a powerful reclamation of self-identity rooted in strong black feminist representation. She consciously gives black women around the world permission to venture into their roots, harness the beauty and power of the goddesses before them and draw on their strength through her art.
Intentional or not, Beyoncé empowers black women to become more clearly themselves.
Thank you, Mother.