Watching Beyonce break a fire hydrant in broad day light as she sashays through the streets in a sun yellow dress leaving destruction in her wake may be one of the most satisfying pieces of music film anyone is likely to see this year.
But the subtle mythical undertones of the adjoining video for ‘Hold Up’ the second track off her internet-breaking Lemonade album make even more satisfying reveals when the source of her inspiration is highlighted.
In Hold Up, Beyonce draws inspiration from mythical Yoruba river goddess Osun Olokun, who according to folklore, had an unpredictable temperament and often donned a similar flowing golden yellow outfit.
Osun, the goddess of the waters, wealth, sensuality, fertility, love and femininity is a prominent thematic element for most of Beyonce’s Lemonade. Beyonce draws inspiration from this Yoruba goddess as she channels her inner Osun to drive themes of feminism, racism, Jay-Z’s alleged infidelity amongst other issues she succinctly discused across the 12-track collective.
Of course the immediate reaction of the Nigerian internet is to appreciate and thank Beyonce for affiliating herself with our Nigerian culture. And while that is all well and good, what we should be doing instead is calling out our own local artistes for neglecting our rich culture in their own music. Because unlike Beyonce, it seems they are too “tush” for all that village people sturvs.
Colonial experience took a lot of our identities as Nigerians and Africans. One of such major identity losses is ignorance of our culture in our “modern” music. The Nigerian music industry in all its years of growth has moved farther from everything our art and sound should represent. Coupled with poor documentation of the Nigerian sound, many artistes have discographies that have merely thrived on imported western music counter-cultures.
Save for the incursion of a new Fela aesthetic renaissance by the likes of D-Banj, Wizkid, Burna Boy amongst others, many homegrown genres have been relegated to the place of second rate “local music”.
Even our so-called street music from the likes of Olamide or Lil Kesh is simply a language counter coin to the same gritty imported hip-hop culture. They have not attempted to drive the music towards re-educating us on our own cultural heritage, neither have they drawn inspiration from therein as we can see with Beyonce.
Instead songs are made with the same trite lyrics and music videos are shot with shaking booties and popping bottles of champagne. Nothing is impacted, nothing is gained.
But for the purpose of a fair argument, we are not sure if many Nigerian artistes can get away with singing about some river goddess. Religion like many other elements of “modernity” sold to us by colonialists is one of the major reasons we ignore our own rich indigenous history. Though our artistes import everything including their accents, we have to admit the difficulty of affiliating with pre-colonial cultural elements may suffer a serious perception bias thanks to the God-mindedness of the majority of the Nigerian populace and where there is no demand for artistes to make music about our cultural heritage, there will be no supply for music about it.
The irony however is how quickly Nigerians rise to the spotlight to lay claim to such cultural elements being represented by foreign media and personalities.
Beyonce for example is one of many who have adopted Nigerian cultural elements into their music. Earlier last year, French-Cuban twins Ibeyi who have also affiliated themselves with Yoruba mythology and occasionally sing their lyrics in tongue-in-cheek Yoruba broke into the Nigerian media briefly and even more recently Drake’s One Dance which featured Wizkid gained bigger buzz after fans suggested the rapper may have spoken at bit of Yoruba.
If we have no one to tell us, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves at how excited we get by foreign validation of our culture, even when we shamelessly distance ourselves from it.