[image description: Beyoncé in the music video for “Love Drought” marching into the water followed by a procession of black women]
Beyoncé’s LEMONADE is filled with incredible artistry and stunning imagery. One of the most striking images for me on the visual album, though, occurs in the video for “Love Drought”. Much has been said about how LEMONADE draws influence from Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, but less has been said in these same conversations about how the story of Igbo Landing is central to Daughters of the Dust and how the story of Igbo Landing- an act of mass resistance against slavery-also shows up in a really pronounced manner in the “Love Drought” Video.
[Image description: Donovan Nelson’s artistic depiction of Igbo Landing in charcoal. It shows the Igbo slaves marching into a body of water with the water already up to their necks and their eyes closed. Image via Valentine Museum of Art]
For those who don’t know, Igbo Landing is the location of a mass suicide of Igbo slaves that occurred in 1803 on St. Simons Island, Georgia. As the story goes, a group of Igbo slaves revolted and took control of their slave ship, grounded it on an island, and rather than submit to slavery, proceeded to march into the water while singing in Igbo, drowning themselves in turn. They all chose death over slavery. It was an act of mass resistance against the horrors of slavery and became a legend, particularly amongst the Gullah people living near the site of Igbo Landing.
Not only is the story of Igbo Landing one of the key themes of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, which influenced LEMONADE, but its imagery also appears to be central to the “Love Drought” video. In the video, Beyoncé marches into the water followed by a group of black women all in white with black fabric in the shape of a cross across the front of their bodies. They march progressively deeper into the water before pausing and raising all of their hands toward the sunset.
[Image description: Beyoncé marching into a large body of water by a beach followed by other black women]
This scene and the video as a whole also occurs in a marshy, swampy landscape, matching African-American folklore descriptions of the location of Igbo Landing. In addition, this is all mixed in with imagery of Beyoncé physically bound in ropes and resisting their pull, which directly evokes slavery, resistance and the events at Igbo Landing for me.
[Image description: Beyoncé on a beach leaning backward as she appears to be resisting the pull of a taught rope]
Lastly, I would like to note how Beyoncé and the group of black women she is with very deliberately rose their hands while in the water toward the sunset. For me this recalled how the act of mass resistance at Igbo Landing was mythologized in many African-American communities as either the myth of the “water walking” or “flying” Africans. In the latter legend, the Igbo slaves walked into the water and then flew back to Africa, saving themselves in turn.
Below is the myth of the “flying Africans” at Igbo Landing as told by Wallace Quarterman, an African-American man born in 1844 who was interviewed by members of the Federal Writers Project in 1930 (via wiki):
Ain’t you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and … Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good… . Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that hoe in the field and then … rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa… . Everybody knows about them.
[Image description: Beyoncé and several black women partially submerged in water by a beach and raising their arms toward the setting sun]
Seeing Beyoncé and a group of black women marching into the water and raising their hands collectively toward the sunset reminded me specifically of this last interpretation of the story of Igbo Landing where the slaves flew to their freedom.
There are lots of potential interpretations for this video and the visual album as a whole but the core imagery of the “Love Drought” video – marshy landscape matching folklore descriptions of the location of “Igbo Landing,” images of Beyoncé bound in ropes and resisting their pull, a collective march into the water and holding their hands out toward the sky as if they were about to fly away together-basically screamed out to me as the story of Igbo Landing as I watched the video. It’s such a powerful act of mass resistance against slavery and as an Igbo person living today in America, it was moving to see imagery which reminded me strongly of it in LEMONADE as well.
What to read after watching Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’
“Lemonade” is not simply another “he done me wrong” album or video. The relationship at the heart of the lyrics is a Trojan horse, opening to the shores of black womanhood as healing and salvation.
It’s also obvious that Beyoncé and her collaborators have combed through some college syllabi and taken a few trips to the bookstore. “Lemonade” is basically a video version of Black Feminist Lit 101.
- The Way Forward is With a Broken Heart by Alice Walker
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
- Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime by J. California Cooper
- for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange
- Mama Day bu Gloria Naylor
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
Click through to view the full list.
Not everyone is feeling Beyoncé’s foray into country music with the song “Daddy Lessons” on her new visual album Lemonade, including Country Music Television News contributor Alison Bonaguro.
In a short post on the CMT site, Bonaguro asks, “What’s so country about Beyoncé?”:
Sure, Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade has a song with some yee-haws, a little harmonica and mentions of classic vinyl, rifles and whiskey. But all of the sudden, everyone’s acting like she’s moved to Nashville and announced that she’s country now.
Some Twitter users saw a different problem: Bonaguro can’t hear the black roots of country music.
The subtext of @alisonbonaguro post is that Beyoncé is trying to appropriate country, a genre stolen from Black folks by white folks.
Lemonade stands out both for Beyoncé’s emotional and musical range: She tells the story of heartbreak and self-affirmation through a Kübler-Ross model of griefsung in classic R&B ballads, trap, soul, rock, and also, notably, country music.
This is a testament to Bey’s artistry. But it is also a reflection of the integral part black people have played in American music since its inception across all genres — including country music.
In the visual album, Beyoncé kicks off “Daddy Lessons” singing “Yee-haw” while wearing a voluminous Antebellum-style dress cut from African wax print — paying tribute to her home state Texas and her identity as a person of African descent, which also parallels the origins of country music itself.
Before Nashville was the home of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, country music was a genre borne of African slaves. Indeed, musicologists have traced country music’s iconic banjo back to the ngoni and xalam, plucked stringed instruments rooted in West Africa.
And yet country music’s “little white myth” persists today because of the erasure of the genre’s black roots and the contributions black artists have made to it over the years. One of the first black icons of country music was DeFord Bailey, an outstanding harmonica player whose hillbilly records in the 1920s drew from the black folk music tradition he grew up with.
In 1962, Ray Charles, one of the fathers of soul music, released Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, the first country record to sell 1 million copies, ushering in the possibility of the sort of pop and country music crossover for which white artists like Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift are now celebrated.
“[‘Daddy Lessons’] doesn’t sound like a country song to me,” Bonaguro wrote. That has little to do with Beyoncé and almost everything to do with the way country music’s black voices have been silenced or forgotten.