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Beyoncé takes the protest route

Beyoncé's latest work focuses on the fight for racial justice.
Beyoncé's latest work focuses on the fight for racial justice. AFP/File
6 min

American R ‘n’ B superstar Beyoncé has become one of the world’s top-selling artists by celebrating black culture and identity in her music. Her latest work Black Parade is a full-blown protest song.

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She released it on 23 June – a day known as Juneteenth – when the United States marks the end of slavery in June 1865. 

Beyoncé is Texan and the commemoration itself is linked to the fact slaves in Texas were only told of their freedom two and a half years after the official Emancipation Proclamation. They carried on toiling, without pay, for more than two years. 

When Beyoncé sings: “I’m going back to the south where my roots ain’t watered down,” she’s reclaiming those Texan roots.

And when she sings: "I'm for us, all Black, All chrome, Black-owned," she’s defending black excellence and businesses. 

“Black excellence is a form of protest,” she wrote on her website, announcing all proceeds from sales of the song would go to help Black-owned small businesses in need via her BeyGOOD initiative.

Beyonce started her singing career in the group Destiny's Child.
Beyonce started her singing career in the group Destiny's Child. AFP/File

In the days following George Floyd’s death, Beyoncé called for petitions and prayers in the tradition of murdered clergyman and civil rights leader Martin Luther King. 

But when she sings: “Need peace and reparation for my people,” and laces her lines with "f**k", she is closer to Malcom X, the freedom fighter and defender of Black nationalism.

Beyoncé has also taken a stance in the case of Breonna Taylor. She called on the attorney general of the Louisville Metro Police Department to arrest the plain-clothes officers who shot the 26-year old African-American after entering her apartment with a “no-knock” warrant.

"Your office has both the power and responsibility to bring justice to Breonna Taylor, and demonstrate the value of a black woman’s life," she wrote in a letter posted on her website on 14 June.

Keedron Bryant - a 12 year old boy from Jacksonville in Florida - was until very recently an unknown gospel singer.

 

But he rose to fame when his mother, a gospel choir leader and preacher, posted a video of him on instagram singing: “I just wanna live.”

The song is about being young and black in America. 

“Every day/ I'm being hunted as prey/ My people don't want no trouble/We've had enough struggle,” sings Keedron in the 50-second clip. 

The youngster pleads to be left to grow and flourish like any other kid and asks God for protection. 

“It’s unfair that black people can’t go out and enjoy life and live without having fear that something’s going to happen to them, so it was kind of sad to sing those lyrics,” Keedron told the Chicago Sun Times. “But (there’s) still hope that we can change the world.” 

Johnetta Bryant felt moved to write the song after seeing the video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer.

“When I heard Mr Floyd call out his Mum, as a black mother that really hit me in a deep way,” she told Hoda Kotb on Today.

The song went viral, drawing praise from former president Barak Obama, Janet Jackson, basketball superstar LeBron James and Beyoncé’s mother, Tiny Lawson.

Keedron’s powerful performance inspired music producer Dem Jointz. He reworked the song, added his own auto-tuned backing vocals and, in a welcome nod to black legends Marvin Gaye and Gil Scott-Heron, infused it with soul and jazz.

The re-mix drew the attention of Warner records and on Juneteenth they released a studio version of the song on streaming platforms along with a music video featuring black and white stills of protesters holding signs with Keedron’s moving lyrics. 

 

Warner said it will donate all net profits from sales of the record to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Warner boss Chris Atlas told the Chicago Sun Times: "It is a way of giving back and using music as a healing mechanism, which I truly believe it is."

The ultimate rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, and which has become the anthem of a generation is undoubtedly Kendrick Lamar’s Alright from his 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly”. 

 

The album earned the African-American rapper four Grammy awards in 2016 and when he performed it there live he shuffled onto the stage followed by a line of black men with their wrists and ankles in chains. 

Written in the wake of the Ferguson Resistance and a spate of police killings of black men and women, the song calls out both gang violence and systemic police violence. 

Lamar’s flow, pitted with the N-word, hits out at the police: “We hate po-po /Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, nigga /I’m at the preacher’s door /My knees getting weak and my gun might blow.” 

The video shows graphic footage of gangs fuelled by crack, alcohol and knife-culture, of violent arrests of black men, of shootings and faces filled with fear. But then Lamar lays his hand on his fellow ‘niggas’ shoulders and says: “But we gon’ be alright.”

While keeping the anger and outrage flowing, ‘Alright’ gives what every fight needs: a sense of hope.

“There was a lot going on - still to this day there's a lot going on,” Lamar told GQ magazine in 2016.

“I wanted to approach ['Alright'] as more uplifting, but aggressive. Not playing the victim, but still having that 'Yeah, we strong.'"

 

 

 

 

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