At the moment, a Beyoncé “surprise” album is just a Beyoncé album.
This is why fans were thrilled, if not totally shocked, by the announcement that Queen B will be releasing a brand new visual album on July 31.
Named ‘Black Is King’ and streamed on Disney +, Beyoncé unveiled the disc’s first preview over the weekend, with two trailers released on Saturday and Sunday.
The visual album apparently originated during Beyoncé’s work on the 2019 film The Lion King, in which she played Nala.
At the time, Bey was going out The Lion King: The Gift, a full album that accompanied the film and featured collaborations with African musicians (many of them Nigerians) like WizKid and Burna Boy.
Maybe that’s why the first look at Black is king shows Beyoncé continues to use motifs from African culture, especially Nigerian traditions, including clothing and dances.
This isn’t the first time Beyoncé has paid homage to the continent: in previous eras, she has made extensive reference to traditional Yoruba deities like Oshun and incorporated choreography of Mozambican dancers into her performances.
But with more in-depth discussions of how black people around the world are represented and received, this time there has been a backlash.
Most come from black individuals, many of African descent, who accused her of peddling a narrative that African culture is broadly the same across the continent, despite being made up of 54 different countries.
A Nigerian person asked what all the “Wakanda nonsense” was.
Others have said that it homogenizes Africa and erases important parts of the continent’s history.
Others have spoken about it in terms of “Wakandafication”, a reference to the popular Marvel blockbuster of 2018. Black Panther, which depicts the culture of a fictional African country.
There have been calls for more people to listen to Africans tell their own stories.
And reminders of how Beyoncé is part of a capitalist system.
Of course, this line of criticism was challenged by both BeyHive and those who found it unfair.
Many have pointed out that African Americans often trace their heritage when they return to the African continent, given that thousands of their ancestors were forcibly sent to America to work on slave plantations.
There was a strong disagreement.
Others said the question was over-considered and that whatever Beyoncé did, she would be criticized.
It is true that Queen B is widely used as a ruler.
However, even those who identified themselves as Beyoncé fans found it strange that a film so focused on African cultures would not be available to stream on the continent.
Of course, no definitive conclusion has been reached in this edition of the Diaspora Wars.
It was agreed, however, that even those with reservations would likely end up watching the movie.
Then maybe Beyoncé will ultimately win this one, despite all the debates. And isn’t art meant to be debated anyway?