Tue, 21 Mar 2023

Beyonce is going on a world tour. Why she shouldn't ignore Africa

The Conversation
08 Feb 2023, 04:39 GMT+10

Beyonce announced her highly anticipated Renaissance World Tour on the first day of Black History Month - an annual observance in the US that honours the African diaspora. Social media erupted and ticketing websites crashed briefly as fans worldwide rushed to secure tickets. Following her record-setting 32nd win at the 2023 Grammy Awards for her album Renaissance, the US singer-songwriter's tour is the most sought-after musical event of the year. It will run from May to September 2023, with performances so far scheduled only across Europe and North America.

African fans were disappointed, but no doubt not surprised - Africa is almost always excluded from major world tours organised by global record labels. To be clear, it's not just Beyonce.

Read more: Beyonce has helped usher in a renaissance for African artists

Still, this particular exclusion is compounded by Queen Bey's love of the continent - especially of former South African president Nelson Mandela - and the influence she's drawn from it in her work. Of course, hope remains for her African fandom that destinations could still be added to the tour.

As a popular music scholar, I'm interested in how Beyonce addresses social issues in her music - and how this is perceived by listeners in Africa. I argue that African destinations should be included - and not just because Beyonce incorporates African elements in her music. But because of how large and fervent her fanbase is in Africa and how her social awareness messages resonate with these fans.

Snubbing Africa

In a capitalist commercial music industry, stadium world tours significantly affect an artist's revenue and exposure. Almost without fail, African countries are erased as possible destinations, leaving many fans asking why.

While we may never know the answer - unless record labels blatantly state their perspectives - many are left to wonder if big name artists and their management teams think that Africa does not have adequate infrastructure to accommodate their grandiose sets. Or if they believe that stadiums will not fill up with patrons such as those across the global north do.

One of the ways that we can start to make sense of Africa's exclusion is by applying an intersectional lens to western popular culture. (This is a framework to understand the distribution of power - social, economic, political and cultural - in society, how it is maintained, and why certain groups of people are marginalised.) By thinking particularly about the relationships between class and geographic location, western popular culture can be viewed as a product of a capitalist society that prioritises the generation of profit. Capitalist record labels put making money first.

In popular culture, Africa has traditionally been cast as a backward continent plagued by famine, poverty and war. This shapes how the continent is viewed when assessing its capabilities to generate profits. The management teams and record labels of global pop musicians could see Africa as a high-risk, low-reward destination. They would rather travel to destinations where profitability is guaranteed based on infrastructure and previous experiences.

However, some major artists have had successful tour performances in Africa, such as Ed Sheeran in 2018 and Lady Gaga in 2012. Even though both performed only in South Africa, they did not wholly snub the continent. And their South African dates were commercial successes.

Beyonce and Africa

What further confounds many African fans is that it seems such a natural fit for Beyonce to revisit the continent. Her love for Africa is evident. Her visual album, Black Is King, is a testament to this. She explores and celebrates her African heritage through it. At the same time it highlights the diverse tapestry of culture and tradition on the continent and across the diaspora. Various musical, visual, language and wardrobe elements from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa are fused in it.

Beyonce may never have brought a world tour to Africa, but she is one of the few major global pop musicians to perform here. In 2003 she appeared at the 46664 Concert in Cape Town. Hosted by Mandela, the concert aimed to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS in the country. In 2018 she headlined the Global Citizen: Mandela 100 Festival in Johannesburg together with her husband Jay-Z. Interestingly, most tickets for the performance were earned through acts of social activism, so we will never know if it was a commercial success. But the stadium was filled to capacity.

It's probably not a coincidence that Beyonce's two African performances were at events connected to Mandela. In 2018 she expressed her adoration for the late president, highlighting his lessons of forgiveness. These lessons she portrayed through her desire to break generational curses in her seminal Black feminist visual album Lemonade.

Both concerts raised awareness of growing inequalities across South Africa and the continent. Beyonce has advocated for social justice and calls attention to power relations that marginalise people based on elements such as race, gender and class.

Why she should return

Undoubtedly, Beyonce's Renaissance World Tour tickets would sell out as fast in any African city as a city in the global north. (Sheeran sold 230,000 tickets for his stops in Johannesburg and Cape Town.)

In addition to her musical and dancing talents, Beyonce addresses social issues in a way that many people can understand. She reminds people who have been marginalised that they are greater than the dominating forces have led them to believe. She encourages self-care and self-love within a capitalist society that values productivity over the individual.

Moreover, her love for Africa has recast the continent's image within popular culture, bringing various African art forms to the forefront of media and music. And finally, Beyonce has the power to trigger a music industry renaissance and reform the west's perceptions about touring in Africa.

Author: James Chikomborero Paradza - Doctor of Music Candidate, University of Pretoria The Conversation

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