meta-scriptBeyoncé Announces New Visual Album 'Black Is King,' Out July 2020 On Disney+ | GRAMMY.com
Screenshot from Beyoncé's 'Black Is King'

Screenshot from Beyoncé's Black Is King

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Beyoncé Announces New Visual Album 'Black Is King,' Out July 2020 On Disney+

The visual album, which is based on the singer's 2019 soundtrack album for 'The Lion King: The Gift,' "reimagines the lessons of 'The Lion King' for today’s young kings and queens in search of their own crowns"

GRAMMYs/Jun 29, 2020 - 12:52 am

Beyhive, rejoice! Beyoncé returns to the screens next month with Black Is King, a brand-new visual album written, directed and executive-produced by the 24-time GRAMMY winner. Set to globally premier July 31 on Disney+, the visual album is based on the music from Queen Bey's The Lion King: The Gift, the soundtrack album she curated for the 2019 The Lion King remake; Black Is King will be released nearly two weeks after the film's one-year anniversary. 

The visual album "reimagines the lessons of The Lion King for today's young kings and queens in search of their own crowns" and offers "a celebratory memoir for the world on the Black experience," according to a press release from Disney announcing the project. 

Black Is King, which was "in production for one year with a cast and crew that represent diversity and connectivity," according to the press release, stars featured artists from The Lion King: The Gift and includes special guest appearances. The visual album will include videos for The Gift tracks like "My Power," "Mood 4 Eva" and "Brown Skin Girl." 

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"The voyages of Black families, throughout time, are honored in a tale about a young king's transcendent journey through betrayal, love and self-identity," the press release states. "His ancestors help guide him toward his destiny, and with his father's teachings and guidance from his childhood love, he earns the virtues needed to reclaim his home and throne.

These timeless lessons are revealed and reflected through Black voices of today, now sitting in their own power. Black Is King is an affirmation of a grand purpose, with lush visuals that celebrate Black resilience and culture. The film highlights the beauty of tradition and Black excellence."

Released last July, The Lion King: The Gift featured an epic artist roster comprising African and Afrobeats artists like WizkidBurna Boy, Mr Eazi and many others. At the 2020 GRAMMYs, the album received a nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album, while album track "Spirit," performed by Beyoncé, received nominations for Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Song Written For Visual Media. (Beyoncé's 2019 concert film, Homecoming, based on her historic performance at Coachella 2018, won the GRAMMY for Best Music Film, her only win that night.) 

Black Is King follows Beyoncé's new track "BLACK PARADE," which she released last week on Juneteenth (June 19); proceeds from the track will benefit her BeyGOOD Black Business Impact Fund, which supports Black-owned small businesses.

Beyoncé: Justice For Breonna Taylor Would Demonstrate The Value Of A Black Woman's Life

Kehlani press photo
Kehlani

Photo: Mia André 

interview

Crashing Into The Present: How Kehlani Learned To Trust Their Instincts And Exist Loudly

"I want this next batch of music to feel like the most fiery parts of me," Kehlani says of her new album, 'Crash.' The singer/songwriter speaks with GRAMMY.com about embracing the moment and making an album she can headbang to.

GRAMMYs/Jun 20, 2024 - 01:07 pm

After finishing the first mixes of their new album, Kehlani knew exactly what she needed to do: head to Las Vegas. 

The L.A.-based, Oakland-born singer/songwriter had always identified with Sin City: "I’m full of juxtapositions," she tells GRAMMY.com. "Vegas is this crazy bright light city in the middle of a vacant desert that has weddings and also strippers." Fittingly, Kehlani harbored a very Vegas-like image in their head while creating Crash, a record built on blaring neon, glowing smoke, and the highest highs.

Crash drops June 21, and is Kehlani's fourth solo album. She burst onto the scene in 2009 as a member of teen sextet PopLyfe, but their 2014 debut solo mixtape Cloud 19 announced a far more complex character. Their debut full-length, SweetSexySavage, was released three years later to critical acclaim, with two more albums and a handful of platinum-certified singles following. As if that weren’t enough, Kehlani added acting, appearing in "The L Word: Generation Q" and a cameo in Creed III. 

And while Crash embodies the evolution and growth through all those experiences, the record builds a hyper-real language all their own. Beyond any sense of R&B or pop, soul or hip-hop, Crash finds Kehlani chasing passions that refuse to fit in any box, shifting multiple times within a track — refusing to focus on anything but the moment. 

"A crash isn't anything from the past. It isn't the anxiety of what's about to happen," she says. "It's the height of the moment. It's right now."

Nearing the release of Crash, Kehlani spoke with GRAMMY.com about finding inspiration from international music, getting their five-year-old to sing on the album, and their need to stage dive.

What’s it like living in Los Angeles after growing up in the Bay Area?

I moved to L.A. when I was about 17. I had already left the house. I left the house at 14, and by the time I was almost 18 it was the appropriate time for me to situate in a new place. L.A. and the Bay are like cousins. Do we have differences? Absolutely, things that are fundamental to us, but when you leave California, you can really see that we're just like a big family.

Had you been dreaming of L.A. as a place where you could pursue art? Were you already set on that goal?

It was the closest place that a young, very broke person could go and work in music. I'm sure there were other places with musical homes, musical cities, but if all I had to do was get on a $15 bus and go find someone to stay with in L.A., I was gonna do it for sure.

That’s the same ambition that I feel drives this new record, which is just so dense and full of surprises. That includes the lovely retro radio intro to "GrooveTheory," where you move from this ‘60s pop feel to the present. That’s such a smart way to foreground your evolution.

I think the second that we made that song and then turned it into ["GrooveTheory"], I was like, This feels like it encompasses where I'm headed, this whole new sound. 

Once that radio dials in and it comes in with R&B elements, it's producing where I'm headed, but also remembering that my core hasn't changed. Especially the energy of what I'm saying in the song, like, "I'm kind of crazy," it's introducing this energy difference on this album. I feel like that's the biggest change, and that's what's so prevalent in this whole rollout. Energetically, I'm on a whole different type of time.

You can sense it. 'Crash' feels really rooted in self-expression and personal growth, and when you listen to it as a whole, it really does seem like an evolution story. Beyond just the genre and style, how do you feel the way that you've expressed your true self has shifted over the years?

Thank you! That's been the feedback I've gotten from pretty much everyone who's listened, and I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this. I have realized the public's understanding of me and the general consensus for so long, and I also realized how multi-faceted I am to people. 

People get really confused when I express all the sides of my personality. They’re either, like, "Okay, she makes really sweet love songs," or "We've seen you be political, we've seen you come out, we've seen you be a family member." And then there's a lot of people who are, like, "I feel like she's f—ing crazy. I've seen her in multiple relationships. I've seen her be angry. I've seen her get online and cuss people out." 

I want this next batch of music to feel like the most fiery parts of me. I want it to feel like the most present and energetic parts of me. I don't want anything to feel somber. I don't want anything to feel reminiscent. I think a lot of my albums in the past have been me looking back, and sitting in that feeling and detailing it. I just wanted [this album] to feel right here, right now, which is why the title came about. A crash isn't anything from the past. It isn't the anxiety of what's about to happen. It's the height of the moment. It's right now.

That’s unfortunately a story you hear too often about artists of color — that essentialization, where you can only be seen as one thing. R&B often gets hit with those same issues. Throughout your career you’ve stood up to those expectations, and "Better Not" on this album is such a good example of that. It’s a left turn, a stylistic contrast and an open conversation with the listener. You cleverly fuse that intentionality with a voice that’s stronger than ever.

In the past, I have had moments where I would make the song and [start recording], and there would be so many versions of each song on different microphones, recorded in different places.

"Let me try vocal production. Let me try to go back and work with this version again." I went back and did vocal production with Oak Felder, who did all the vocal production on SweetSexySavage. When I come back to some of my favorite vocal production moments, it was moments like "Distraction" or "Advice" or "Escape" — songs on my very first album — and I wanted to get that feeling again. Where it's lush where it needs to be, but also that I really mean what I'm saying. 

That started with the approach in the songwriting. Once I had the songs and I had to go back and deliver them, I had enough time to listen and listen, to learn the songs and identify with them. We would make music all day and then go out, and we would be in this sprinter van on the way to going out, and, like, bang, the songs we just made, the energy was just different. It allowed me to be present in a different way where my voice is able to show up like that.

Learn more: R&B Isn't Dead: Listen To 51 Songs By Summer Walker, Josh Levi & More Artists Who Are Pushing The Genre Forward

Which again ties perfectly to crashing into the present. As someone from South Africa, I love that the other guests that you included represent different cultural viewpoints. You worked with Young Miko from Puerto Rico, Omah Lay from Nigeria. Having that musical dialogue is so powerful.

We had so many conversations about how America's in the backseat often when it comes to music. We have our moments, and it's fantastic, like Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter. There's a culture that is super American, that is Black, that historically needs to be dived into. It needs to be shown that we do have something here. 

So many people that don't speak Spanish bang Bad Bunny all day. Amapiano’s taking over; Tyla’s going up. It's really not here. So that wasn't a conscious choice. It's just what we've all been listening to, what we've been loving.

Read more: 11 Women Pushing Amapiano To Global Heights: Uncle Waffles, Nkosazana Daughter, & More

Speaking of guests, I wanted to ask about your daughter, whose voice is on "Deep." Was she just in the studio and you got her singing?

So those vocals on that, that’s actually my little sister and my goddaughter. And [my daughter] was in the room and she started singing along. She has perfect pitch; she's always freestyling or singing or making something up. 

I was like, "You want to just go sing on it?" What's on there is her first take. Literally. She did it the first time, all the way through, perfectly. I was like, "Well, that's it, guys. I can retire." 

That track is so lush. It feels so alive. Were you working with a full band?

[Producer] Jack Rochon, who I did a lot of the music with, he just is a freaking genius music whiz. Honestly, he's one of the most humble people that I know, and deserves credit for how amazing a lot of this album is.

Talking about touchstones, there's a Prince energy to the title track. Did you have any new inspirations or influences for this record?

Thank you! My main focus for this album came from going on tour for my last one and making such a pretty, sweet, intimate album, and then playing some of the biggest venues of my career. At some point I had to rearrange the setlist to add in a lot of the album before that one, because it was just more energy on the stage. By week two of tour, the setlist had completely changed. I knew that I was playing venues on this next tour that I've dreamt about, places that I can't fathom that I'm playing, like Barclays Center. 

I do a lot of things for, like, my inner child, and this is such a move for my inner child. Like, You're about to go play Barclays. Do you want to look back and say, ‘I rocked out and played Barclays’? I'm a person who headbangs on stage. I stage dive. I wanted to create an album that would ring through a venue like that. I want people to be engaged again. I'm not looking for the lighters and the somber, holding each other — which will occur regardless, because it's a me show. 

But I really wanted people to be in their bodies, and their heart’s exploding and the ground’s shaking. So that's what we accomplished. I wanted to have fun. This album is so fun to me. It’s a place of fire in my heart.

It took me a second to get the word play on "Eight." I loved the track, and then suddenly I was like, 'Oh… I knew there was something raunchy going on here.'

[*Laughs.*] "Eight" was super fun, and shoutout to the boys that I did it with, because they made it everything for me. 

I didn't come up with the wordplay. My boys did. Like, "This is how you talk!" I was like, "It is! This is perfect." Once I got in to fix things, add things, add my own spin, and finish writing, my favorite part was that it sounds like a Brandy song. She's my favorite.

I also wanted to ask about the Nina Sky sample on "After Hours."

That was mine. I was like, "What can we flip that when it comes on, my generation loses their mind?" And for me, every single time that Nina Sky comes on in the club, everybody's like "Woo!" And then you see how many songs were made from that same sample, and they're all songs that make us lose our minds. 

I went into the room with the producers, and I was like, "So, I want to flip this, but I want you to make it to where it doesn't become one of those where the whole thing is just a sample."

Similarly, "Lose My Wife" balances breeziness with high emotional stakes. Is finding a balance like that just natural for someone so capable of juxtaposition?

The second that we established that [the record] felt like Vegas, I knew what components were missing from the energy of how I feel the second my car crosses the line into the city of Las Vegas. I knew I was missing that feeling of the next morning when you realize you went on this high and you come down. I wanted to create these scenarios that weren't necessarily applicable to me, but captured that emotion. I've been there before, and I want people to be like, Damn, I've been there before. I know this feeling. 

I recorded that song at 4 in the morning with a sinus infection. The second that we finished it, everybody was like, "You can never re-sing that. Don't try to make another version, you're not gonna be able to sound like that again." All the chatter in the background of that song is really everybody who was in the studio that stayed up to just hang out. We had the tequila out, it was perfect. That was probably one of my favorite moments of making the album.

It takes a while as an artist to reach a place where you can capture those moments. You said before that people try to figure you out, and I mean this in the best possible way, but it feels like now you don’t care if they can’t figure you out.

I don't give a f—anymore, yeah. And that was a very important thing for me to learn. I used to care so much, and I would spend so much time explaining myself online, in music, in interviews, on stage. I realized that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. 

I've been so forward-facing with my heart my entire career that I've left a lot of room for people to consistently pedestal me and then critique me, for people to want to tear me down. I realized I'm just being present, here, existing loudly in front of a billion people, and whichever way that goes is how the cookies gonna crumble. Me giving a f—? I'm the only one it's affecting at this point, for sure.

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Kirk Franklin performs at a Junteenth 2024 event in front of the White House in Washington D.C.
Kirk Franklin performs during a 2024 Junteenth Concert in front of the White House in Washington D.C.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski

list

5 Free Musical Events To Celebrate Juneteenth 2024: Juneteenth Village Fest, ACLT Summer Of Soul & More

On June 19, America will celebrate Juneteenth, the federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. If you're looking for free musical events to attend, here's a cross section of what's happening around the nation.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 01:18 pm

Juneteenth is the United States' newest federal holiday, and arguably its most overdue. On June 19, Americans of all colors and creeds will join together to celebrate the anniversary of the termination of legal slavery in the U.S., a milestone that was also long overdue in 1865, decades after many nations, including Great Britain, Denmark, and Mexico, had already abolished it. 

Black Americans have given the world a universe of musical genius, among countless other cultural contributions, and these nationwide celebrations will be filled with music.

No matter where you reside, a Juneteenth celebration is likely happening nearby. As a music lover on GRAMMY.com, you know that free events are always a treat. Accordingly, here's a list of free Juneteenth musical events scattered around the country — so you can move your body while celebrating the Black community.

Need a refresher on how Black music touches everything, everywhere? Check out these free programs — you just might learn something.

Wave Hill's Juneteenth Celebration

The Bronx, New York

All details here

If you're in New York City, plenty of Juneteenth celebrations are sure to abound — and one special one's up in the Bronx. At the well-known public garden Wave Hill, there'll be picnicking, artmaking, and of course, music. Check out a fantastic performance by the singer, dancer, actor, and educator Bahati Barton, followed by a dance performance by Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet. All ages are welcome; bring folding chairs and blankets and enjoy the show.

Manhattan Beach's 2024 Juneteenth Celebration & Concert

Manhattan Beach, California

All details here

This Juneteenth bash has a serious serving of live music for those of you on the westside of Los Angeles. From late morning into mid-afternoon, enjoy Charis Reese, DJ Slatterose, the Clayton Cameron Ensemble and more, while enjoying art, cuisine and more from Black-owned businesses. Indeed, Manhattan Beach will offer up something for everyone on this most important of days.

Juneteenth Village Fest

Chicago, Illinois

All details here

Chicago is one of the most important cities in Black American history and culture, and naturally, they do Juneteenth right. The lineup for Juneteenth Village Fest at Douglass Park is free and open to the public, but the lineup would be worth shelling out for: Common, Dead Prez and Domani headline, with additional performances by Bella Bahhs, Liz Toussaint, and more.

Juneteenth Freedom Fest

Seattle, Washington

All details here

Aptly staged at Jimi Hendrix Park up in Seattle, Juneteenth Freedom Fest will be the latest offering from the Summer of Soul Series. This event boasts more than 100 marketplace and food vendors, a plethora of family-friendly entertainment, community resources, and performances by Vic Daggs II, Zaina the Phenom, Ambient Village, and many more.

Black Music Month: Rhythms of Liberations from Juneteenth to Beyond

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

All details here

Leave it to Philly to throw a truly musical Juneteenth — and not stop there. The African American Museum in Philadelphia has programmed amazing events every Saturday from June 8 to 29, tipping its hat to Black genres — country, folk, R&B, neo-soul, and beyond — across a series of toe-tapping, instructive events.

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Mdou Moctar
Mdou Moctar

Photo: Nelson Espinal

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15 Essential Afrorock Songs: From The Funkees To Mdou Moctar

Explore the vibrant history of Afrorock, featuring artists BLO, War-Head Constriction, The Lijadu Sisters, and more that trace Africa's rich musical evolution from the '60s to today.

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2024 - 01:21 pm

Music is a cosmopolitan darling. In a world that speaks the language of travel and tourism, generations of sounds meet, influencing each other in a continuous exchange.

When seventeen African countries gained independence from colonial forces in 1960, the culture and entertainment landscape transformed significantly over the next four decades. Genres like highlife, jùjú, ethio-jazz, Raï, Congolese rumba, marabi, and fuji — which reigned before the '60s — gave way to hybrids such as Afrobeat and Afrorock in the late '60s and early '70s. These new styles blended American funk, jazz, rock and psychedelic elements into distinctly African creations.

In Zambia, Zamrock exploded on the music scene in the early '70s as a political statement, influenced by the heavy rock of Jimi Hendrix and smooth funk of James Brown. Bands like WITCH and Paul Ngozi embraced Western sounds while staying true to their roots by singing in Bemba and Nyanja accordingly.

In Nigeria, rock cults like the Fractions, War-Head Constriction, The Hykkers, Ofo and the Black Company, Ofege, The Lijadu Sisters, and BLO emerged in the wee hours of the Nigerian Civil War, swinging their electric guitars and mixing indigenous material with their newfound sounds. When the Nigeria-Biafran War became full-blown, some of these bands were employed to perform by the army, while some laid low in hotels, singing to anyone who cared to listen.

But while Afrobeat, pioneered by multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti, has gained global recognition and acclaim over the decades as the continent's signature sound, Afrorock has not enjoyed the same achievement. In celebration of the diverse music coming from Africa, here are some classic songs that have defined the Afrorock style over the years.

Monomono — "Kenimania" (1972)

Monomono (Yoruba for "lightning") was one of the first Afrorock bands to emerge from Nigeria. Led by Joni Haastrup on vocals and keyboard, Babá Ken Okulolo on bass and Danjuma "Jimi Lee'' Adamu on the guitars, the group was influenced largely by British rock and Fela Kuti (the album cover literally offers "thanks to brother Fela, for the little hint that did a good job.") 

"Kenimania" appeared as a pure instrumental on their popular 1972 LP Give The Beggar A Chance, and vibrates with polyrhythmic drums, and a strained sax riff over a recurring "Hey!" on the track. 

BLO — "Chant to Mother Earth" (1973)

The Nigerian trio BLO, short for Berkeley Ike Jones, Laolu Akins Akintobi and Odumosu Gbenga Mike, is often hailed as "the first psych-rock band" from Africa and creators of Nigeria's inaugural psychedelic rock record. What sets BLO apart is their unique sound,  which combines a Hendrix-esque rock style with a sleepy, nostalgic texture. 

One of their standout tracks, "Chant to Mother Earth" from their 1973 album Chapter One, encapsulates this blend. It's a spiritual and earthy ballad that serves both as a song and an invocation, and it remains one of the trio's enduring hits.

Edzayawa — "Darkness" (1973)

The Ghanaian band Edzawaya developed a distinctive sound rooted in a 6/8 rhythm and heavily influenced by the music of the Ewe people from southeastern Ghana and western Togo, according to Soundway Records. Their only album, Projection One — delivered in 1973 — features "Darkness," a track that blends funk rock with deep percussive elements, part of their unique style. After recording this album under the guidance of Nigerian music legend Fela Kuti and producer Odium Iruoje in Lagos, the band quickly rose to prominence before disbanding in 1975.  

War-Head Constriction — "Graceful Bird" (1973)

"Graceful Bird" is a powerful single by the Nigerian band War-Head Constriction, featuring members Etim Bassey, Femi Lasode, and Martin Amenechi. Formed during the Nigerian Civil War, their music captures the intense period of their emergence. 

Released under Afrodisia as a single, the track is known for its heavy metal influences, characterized by "long, snarling guitar solos and piles of distortion" according to Pitchfork. The lyrics are a testimony to the harsh turmoil of war and loss. "You just laughed when you saw us cry / Coming to do the slaying / Women fall from grace to grass / Now it's your turn to fade / No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no."

The Funkees — "Breakthrough" (1974)

If BLO pioneered Afrorock, The Funkees evolved it, embedding the spirit of their era in their lyrics. Their upbeat music, particularly popular among the rebellious Biafran youth during the Nigerian Civil War, broke through national borders and resonated with the diaspora. "Breakthrough" from their 1974 album Slipping Into Darkness, is a lyrical exploration of mental liberation. The song's influence continues to echo in modern music, with samples by Kendrick Lamar in "Worldwide Steppers" (2022) and Madlib in "Brothers and Sisters" (2010) cementing its status as a significant work.

Akofa Akoussah — "La Lem" (1976)

In 1966, Julie Akofa Akoussah gained significant exposure on the Togolese music scene when she shared the stage with her compatriot Bella Bellow at the first Negro Arts Festival in Dakar, Senegal.

A decade later, her 1976 eponymous album, Akofa Akoussah, transcended both musical genres and national boundaries. Her music captivated audiences in Ghana and Benin and caught the attention of renowned artists such as Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango, and Aycha Koné. "La Lem", a standout track from the album, features a haunting guitar intro that persists throughout the song, complementing its deeply soulful lyrics. 

The Lijadu Sisters — "Life's Gone Down Low" (1976)

Growing up in Ibadan, Nigeria in the '50s, Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu listened to a lot of records from Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Cliff Richard and Ella Fitzgerald. Far from limiting themselves to a particular style, the duo also drew influences from western jazz, rock, funk and soul, crafting a diverse and experimental sound. 

"Life's Gone Down Low" from their Danger album, is a testament to this eclectic style. The song, which gained popular recognition due to an uncredited sample by the rapper Nas on "Life's Gone Low", features an insistent electric guitar hovering over the chorus "Life's gone down / Down / Down / Down / Down."

Amanaz — "Khala My Friend" (1975)

Amanaz, an acronym for Ask Me About Nice Artistes In Zambia, were a force to reckon with in the Zamrock scene of Zambia. Formed in Kitwe in 1973, the five-piece band featured the compelling vocals of lead singer Keith Kabwe and the acid guitars of John Kanyepa and Isaac Mpofu. 

The track "Khala My Friend," from the 1975 album Africa, remains a staple in bars and outdoor events across Zambia today. A fusion of rock, funk, and traditional Zambian music, the song is an expression of camaraderie and longing. It has not only become a definitive record of the Zamrock subgenre, but has also gained worldwide acclaim from music critics and enthusiasts alike.

Fadoul — "Bsslama Hbibti" ('70s)

Fadoul, a Moroccan three-piece band, gained notoriety when "Bsslama Hbibti'' was  featured in the first compilation by German record label Habibi Funk, which showcased funk, soul and jazz tracks from the 1970s across Sudan, Libya, Morocco and Egypt. While the exact year this gem was recorded is debatable, "Bsslama Hbibti'' is a vibrant mix of funk with some shiny elements of rock that features raw drum beats, fierce guitar riffs, and Fadoul's intense, impassioned lyrics. 

Tinariwen — "Matadjem Yinmixan" (2007)

Malian band Tinariwen has become a cornerstone of desert rock, earning a GRAMMY for Best World Music in 2012 and influencing bands including Kel Assouf and Imarhan. Becoming the Fela Kuti of their genre, their music resonates with a distinctive, gritty essence.  

"Matadjem Yinmixan" ("Why All This Hate Between You?") from their 2007 album Cler Achel, offers pointed criticism of the terrorist groups in the Sahara region which have even captured the band's own members. On the track, the electric chomp of the guitar intertwines with a buoyant beat as a chorus of voices heightens the lyrical tension.

Vaudou Game feat. Roger Damawuzan — "Pas Contente" (2014)

Vaudou Game is the collaboration of Togolese singer and guitarist Peter Solo and a quintet of instrumentalists from Lyon, France. Their well-known hit "Pas Contente" ("I'm Not Happy") has been touted as a funk ballad, it stands out for its dreamy psychedelic rock guitar echoing throughout the track.

Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band — "Wasso" (2015)

From Burkina Faso, Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band is led by Mamadou Sanou, an activist that bridges traditional Manding music with modern Burkinabe funk.

Influenced by the diverse style of Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, and Moussa Doumba, the band recorded "Wasso" at the renowned Ouaga Jungle Studios in 2015. The track exemplifies the band's raw and unrefined sound, blending Mandingue guitar, the native harp donso n'goni, dub, and afrobeat into a cohesive funk rock texture. 

Imarhan — "Tahabort" (2016)

The desert rock sextet Imarhan is one of the promising avant-garde bands to come out of Northern Africa. Not only do they combine influences as diverse as Algerian Rai music, American jazz, Burkinabe funk, and global pop, they also find solace in ancestral Tamashek poetry.

Off their eponymous album, "Taharbot" stands out as a fast-paced number that skillfully weaves together restless elements of raï and funk. There is a combination of a robust bass, reverb guitar loops, complex polyrhythms, and a sweet spot in the riveting riff. 

BCUC — "The Journey with Mr. Van Der Merwe" (2016)

Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (BCUC), formed in Soweto in 2003, uniquely integrates all of South Africa's official languages into their music.  The seven-piece act draws from indigenous and modern music, combining ritual songs, fireside chants, church hymns, and rap with a rock and roll spirit. 

"The Journey with Mr. Van Der Merwe" from their 2016 The Healing album, is a long spell of different sounds anchored by the presence of a strong electric bass guitar. The song serves as a critique of the exploitation of South Africa's rural poor by the urban elite, and incorporates a traditional South African call-and-response that develops into a dub style mid-song.

Mdou Moctar — "Chismiten" (2021)

From their 2021 album Afrique Victime, "Chismiten" rises amid the politically charged and anti-colonial themes of Mdou Moctar's recent work. 

Produced by Michael "Mikey" Coltun, "Chismiten" earned the Tuareg musician and his band attention for challenging conventional definitions of rock music. With its upbeat and danceable sound and strained guitar riffs, Mdou Moctar sings about tişmiten, a Tamasheq word for jealousy. "The song is about how people in a relationship lose their sense of self, they become jealous and envious of others," Mdou explained on Remove.  

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PRIDE & Black Music Month: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ & Black Voices

Tems Press Photo 2024
Tems

Photo: Adrienne Raquel

interview

Tems On How 'Born In The Wild' Represents Her Story Of "Survival" & Embracing Every Part Of Herself

As Tems celebrates the release of her debut album, the Nigerian songstress details what 'Born In The Wild' means to her, and how the process helped her "be the person that I'm meant to be."

GRAMMYs/Jun 7, 2024 - 04:24 pm

In 2018, Tems quit her corporate job to focus solely on what she calls her life's purpose: making music. And in the six years since, she's certainly proven that it's what she was born to do. 

The Nigerian artist's appeal was initially apparent in her home country after she released a string of singles in 2018 and 2019, but it quickly became clear that Tems was poised for global stardom. Just after the arrival of her debut EP, 2020's For Broken Ears, she teamed up with Wizkid for the Afrobeats smash "Essence," which showcased her signature ethereal melodies and introspective storytelling. She soon became a sought-after collaborator, being recruited for Drake's Certified Lover Boy, Beyoncé's Renaissance, and Future's I Never Liked You — the latter of which, a collaboration alongside Drake titled "Wait For U," won Tems her first GRAMMY in 2023.  

Along the way, Tems continued to shine as a star in her own right. After earning a record deal with RCA in 2021, she released her second EP, If Orange Was a Place, and notched hits on Billboard's Hot R&B Songs with "Free Mind" and "Not an Angel." And now, she's ready to continue her winning streak with her debut album, Born in the Wild.

There's a running theme that speaks to Tems' desire for success and meeting the moment across the album's 18 tracks, as evidenced by songs like "Wickedest," "Burning," "Ready," and the titular track. Elsewhere, "Me & U" speaks to inner peace and self-perception, while her latest single "Love Me JeJe" represents her Nigerian roots by interpolating Seyi Sodimu's 1997 hit of the same name. 

As a Lagos-born artist, Tems naturally leans into Afrobeats. But much like her previous EPs, Born in the Wild sees her melding a lot of genres like R&B and soul ("You in My Face") and even rap ("T-Unit"); she also welcomes a more stripped-down approach on standout tracks "Unfortunate" and "Boy O Boy." The album doesn't just show her versatility — it hints at an exciting career that's only getting started.

Ahead of Born in the Wild's release, Tems sat down with GRAMMY.com to discuss the inspiration behind her debut album, what she learned about herself during the creative process, and existing outside of the Afrobeats genre.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Debut albums set the tone for an artist's entire career. What do you want to convey with Born in the Wild?

As humans, we are multidimensional beings. Born in the Wild is about embracing all of oneself. Thinking about when I decided to go into music up until this point, I had to figure out the best way to tell that story of the Nigerian girl that became this person called Tems. And that person was born in the wilderness. Yes, I was born in Africa, but the wilderness is more about the difficulties that I faced mentally and the jump from working a 9 to 5 to trying to sing when nobody believes in you and everybody laughs at you.

Born in the Wild is about survival; I was born in a survival state and raised to survive. Coming from that to now being someone who has the ability to dominate, the ability to overcome and to conquer — that's the story. That's my story.

Born in the Wild speaks to success and taking advantage of every opportunity that is presented to you. It sounds like you're documenting your journey in real time. Can you speak more to that?

I'm someone who doesn't like attention. Like, I could be in my room making my music for months, and I would not even fathom sharing my music. I'm such an introvert like that. I love my alone time. I do everything I can to make sure I can just go back into my cave.

"Ready" is about the moment that I decided I will no longer hide, I will no longer be in my comfort zone, I will no longer be silent. I recognize that what I need to do is bigger than me. It's not about what I like or what's comfortable for me. It's what needs to be done, you know? I cannot make art and just be enjoying my own art like that. 

I'm willing to overcome myself so that I can be the person that I'm meant to be, and I'm ready now to face whatever difficulty, whatever obstacle comes my way. Even if it makes me cry, even if it makes me angry, even if it makes me sad, I'm ready. I'll do it crying. I'll do it angry. I'm going to continue going forward. That's a decision I've made, and I haven't turned back since.

Do you feel like you're still in survival mode, or are you slowly coming out of that and now being able to somewhat relish in the success you've had?

I don't think after survival comes relish. I think after survival comes learning and unlearning. I think now I'm in a place where I can actually thrive. I can flourish and grow and blossom more into the person that I'm meant to be. I can take things and I can receive love easier. I can understand things better, because I'm not too busy trying to survive that I forget to actually learn the lessons that are meant to help me overcome the things that come my way. Life is always gonna be life, but then you develop a different type of strength when you're not in survival mode.

When did you know Born in the Wild was going to be a full-length album and not another EP? In a 2023 interview, you said you weren't sure which way it was going to go amid some of those early recording sessions.

I don't know the particular moment; I just woke up and realized that the things I've been working on are all seemingly coming together. I definitely was more intricate with each of the songs, more critical of the songs. I had to remove myself from them as if I wasn't making them. That way, I could see them objectively for what they were. 

In terms of the process of actually creating the music, it has not changed. I still kind of approach it like, I'm going to make music today. I don't know what's gonna happen today, but I hope it's something great.

Was there anything about the creative process that surprised you?

I've changed a lot from the person that started writing, like from the earliest song that was written until now. I literally learned how to trust the process. I used to say that all the time, but in my mind, I was like, I trust the process, I guess. I don't know what that is, but cool. I tried to rush it, but it just doesn't work out when you do, no matter what. 

So, I just did my best showing up every single day, taking it step by step, day by day. And that will frustrate you, but then I started learning to observe myself in frustration, like, Wow, okay. Why is this happening? Just allowing yourself to be is also part of trusting the process.

As Afrobeats continues to reach new heights, how can consumers and the industry do better at supporting African artists so they don't feel pigeonholed or confined to solely Afrobeats?

Every artist has the power and ability to define themselves. Every artist is in charge of how they view themselves. Some people call me R&B, some people call me alternative, some people call me Afrobeats. When I'm making music, I am not thinking, Oh, because I released 'Free Mind,' all my songs must sound like "Free Mind" or Because I did "Try Me Now," I have to stay there. Otherwise, who is going to consume my music?

I just kind of do my thing, which I feel every artist should do as well. They should go hard and stand for themselves, and define who they are for themselves, because the world can't define who you are in any sector. Nobody outside of you can define you. You define yourself, and the world acts accordingly. They respond to your definition.

What did winning your first GRAMMY in 2023 mean to you? And what do you hope that 2024 unlocks for you?

Winning a GRAMMY for me feels like, Wow, I'm being seen. I feel seen, and I feel acknowledged. I also feel hopeful for other African artists.

For 2024, I want to do my very best to present my art in the best way possible as I see the vision in my head. I'm not really thinking about what's gonna come from that, but I just know I want to really do something different with Born in the Wild. I'm really focused on doing that and having fun while I do that. It's gonna be incredible. I can't wait.

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