It is an ancestral intervention that Beyoncé released her new album, Lemonade around the time of Prince’s death. Prince died on the same day as Nina Simone, 13 years later. Nina the light and the way, the shield and the truth, the mother and the bitch whose spirit you call on when yours is tired of black men and white people’s shit. I picture a séance somewhere in another dimension preparing the living for a very old and slowly returning unnamable mixture of women born on the African continent many lifetimes ago. They are performing a ritual that probably needed Prince’s spirit mixed into it to strengthen its effects on earth. Lemonade needed us to be thirsty enough in order for it to quench some of us the way it did. And Prince dying left us thirsty.
This ritual, in which the past and the future are summoned and ordered to meet and embrace, is likely led by the spirits of all the dead black women who have left evidence of themselves everywhere on earth. They are all over the way we love, the way we fight, the way we fuck, the way we speak and don’t speak, the way we walk and the way we wear our hair. Ultimately, the way we are. They have come together and keep delivering messages through those of us who write, who are athletes, who heal, who reflect humanity on stages and films and those of us who sing. Those like Beyoncé, who have drank from the cups of their wisdom.
‘’Please, Beyoncé and Jay Z are fooling us. It’s all about money. How has this changed your life?’’ asked a few skeptical friends of mine on Sunday. Worried that she wasn’t ‘’in formation’’, that she wasn’t understanding that something supernatural is happening – I watched the visual album a second time, floating into a better part of my self, listening and watching and scrutinizing the perfect fusion of music, emotion, woman, history, pain, the future, beauty, our lives and visual art, trying to find something wrong with it.
And then it hit me. This moment is too big to be about Beyoncé only. Or music. Or money. It is a collective response to a call that is coming from that other dimension, a call from Nina and all the other bad ass ghosts in our history. Busi Mhlongo, Audre Lorde, Miriam Makeba, Queen Ndzinga, Lebo Mathosa, Harriet Tubman, The Dahomey Amazons, Bi Kikude, Nehanda, Sojourner Truth, Gladys Mgudlandlu, Nefertiti, Brenda Fassie and all the women who have been written out of history and thus our memories. Women like Mamani, the 18th Century Mpondomise King who was actually a not-to-be-messed-with woman.
As if they are all speaking at the same time, through different people in different places and circumstances, they speak through the women who are currently letting the world know that they are fed up of asking the world’s permission to be beautiful and angry.
The woman who jogs with a sjambok so as to deter men’s pest-like advances. The women who carry sjamboks to protests.
The women who are using their bare-breasted bodies as weapons of insurgence in response to sexual violence in our universities.
The woman Rihanna chooses to be in her new music video for the song You Need Me where she walks up to her trifling man and shoots him square in the face. And most certainly the woman Beyoncé is in Lemonade – a woman who unapologetically occupies her most commanding self. In the song Hold Up, she wields a baseball bat called Hot Sauce (the name is a comical reference to the Formation lyrics ‘’I got hot sauce in my bag’’) and swings it at cars, shop windows, fire hydrants and the ghost of 2014 Jay Z, who the lyrics allege cheated on her. In this and other moments in this body of work, she joins the band of the world’s fed up women and fights back.
That is why it is Warsan Shire and not any other poet’s words that are spoken all over this album. When I finally responded to one of my friends’ texts, I told her that ‘’I don’t feel crazy or alone anymore. I feel taller and stronger. I feel seen and heard. I have met my power’’. A few moments after that, I read an interesting fact in a small book about Lesotho: the word for vagina in Lesotho is ‘’lesotho’’. Because vaginas are nations.
Read Danielle Bowler’s essay on Lemonade ‘’ ’Beyonce is an event’, helping us to decide how to be’’ in the Mail & Guardian online.