“We got rhythm, we got pride, we birth kings, we birth tribes”
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s ‘Black Parade’ is pretty much Formation 2.0.
Much of its message is steeped in the celebration of Black unity, progress and heritage, with a few lines slipped in to remind folks that she still slays as ‘Queen’.
The merit of the song is her call for all Black folk to join ‘her parade’- the obvious catch of course is we’re all under lockdown in some form or fashion. But it draws upon ongoing demonstrations for Black lives, which are themselves parades of protests and power:
“Pandemic fly on the runway in my hazmat”
Parades and masquerades like Mardi Gras in cities like New Orleans are important epithets of Southern and Black Creole culture, and have been prominent from the 19th century. For example, the Zulu Parade of New Orlean’s black and middle class community was established in 1909 as a response to stereotypes of black people as ‘savages’.
The term ‘parade’ is a metaphor, used to represent a stream of social, economic and physical black empowerment expressed through powerful symbolism and imagery that is an ode to the African diaspora.
The new track dropped on the internet after the ‘Formation’ singer announced an initiative called “Black Parade’ to support black-owned businesses this Juneteenth weekend. There is a five minute extended version exclusively on TIDAL.
On Instagram, Beyoncé wrote: “Happy Juneteenth Weekend! I hope we continue to share joy and celebrate each other, even in the midst of struggle. Please continue to remember our beauty, strength and power.
“BLACK PARADE” celebrates you, your voice and your joy and will benefit Black-owned small businesses”
An entrepreneur herself, Beyoncé doesn’t shy from championing female economic empowerment and has been vocal in her support for black educational attainment and progress through initiatives such as BEYGOOD and the Formation scholarship- a grant program for college-bound black students attending HBCUs.
In recent years, there’s been renewed interest in Black economic empowerment and support for Black owned businesses to buffer the negative impact of racist and white supremacist infrastructures against Black people. In the US, the ‘Black Dollar’ his can be traced back to historically black towns such as Tulsa and Rosewood, which were burned to the ground almost a century ago by white supremacists.
There is also renewed interest in time-honoured African financial instruments such as sou sou, a community investment initiative, popular among continental African and African-Caribbean communities. It’s an arrangement made among friends who each makes regular contributions to a fund, the money being drawn out periodically by each individual in turn. It’s often used in place of interest-based loans.
Our Black creatives- the small and big timers- receive a special mention:
“Drip all on me, woo, Ankh or the Dashiki print”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m for us, all black
All chrome, black owned, black tints (Yeah), matte black (Yeah, yeah)”
“Waste beads from Yoruba”
“Judgin’, runnin’ through the house to my art, all black”
The timing of ‘Black Parade’ wouldn’t be lost on anyone paying attention. This Friday and this weekend by extension, marks Juneteenth, a commemoration of the emancipation of the last group of enslaved African-Americans in Texas, Galveston (Beyoncé is a Texan native). Though Juneteenth is not a national holiday, it has grown to become more prominent celebratory moment in the Black community.
It is exactly why the following lyrics are poignant. They show she supports reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States. It could also be interpreted as a call for global reparations for people of African descent:
“Need peace and reparations for my people”
The song also pays homage to the recent protests against racism and police brutality in the US, in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. And gives the ultimate clapback to President Donald Trump’s ‘shoot the looters’ tweet which prompted Twitter to attach a note saying the post, violated the platform’s policies on a “glorifying violence.”:
“Trust me, they gon’ need an army
Rubber bullets bouncin’ off me
Made a picket sign off your picket fence
Take it as a warning”
The following lyrics evoke a beautiful yet haunting imagery of the recent funeral of Floyd, and the powerful speeches that we have seen go viral in the wake of these recent tragedies, in particular, activist Tamika Mallory, who receives particular mention:
“Hold my hands, we gon’ pray together
Lay down, face down in the gravel
Woo, wearin’ all attire white to the funeral
Black love, we gon’ stay together
Curtis Mayfield on the speaker
Lil’ Malcolm, I miss ’em, Mama Tina
Need another march, lemme call Tamika”
I wonder if this for all the Karens and Sammys out there. Go figure.
“Talkin’ slick to my folk”
Beyoncé never shies away from expressing love for her Southern roots and by extension her African heritage in her songs, and it’s pretty much splattered throughout the song’.
“I’m goin’ back to the South, I’m goin’ back, back, back, back” (* back to Africa)
“Where my roots ain’t watered down, growin’, growin’, like a baobab tree”
“All fly, above of the ground, ancestors put me on game”
“Motherland drip on me, motherland, motherland drip on me”
“We got rhythm, we got pride, we birth kings, we birth tribes”
Beyoncé also dignifies the memory of African royalty such as the the Mandinka Emperor, otherwise known as Mansa Musa:
“Four hunnid billi’, Mansa Musa”
Her first time was in her song ‘Mood 4 Eva’ as part of the ‘Lion King’ soundtrack album last summer.
As with her song, ‘Brown Skin Girl’, Beyoncé recognises that part of Black empowerment comes through self-preservation and Black love. One of the highest manifestations of this is through how black people see themselves. Black beauty, natural hair and Afro-centric hairstyles have made a comeback in Beyoncé’s wax lyrical. You love to see it:
“F*** these laid edges, I’ma let it shrivel up
F*** this fade and waves I’ma let it dread all up
Put your fists up in the air, show black love”
You can only wish there were visuals to match this power-filled and celebratory lyrics, to follow in the footsteps of some of her most iconic songs in recent years such as ‘Formation’ and Apes****’.
All the same, there will be those who believe it’s the Black anthem we need for 2020.