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Beyonce Takes us Behind the Scenes for 'Making the Gift' TV Special

Billboard logo Billboard 9/17/2019 Nadine Graham

Beyonce could give her fans a behind-the-scenes documentary for every project she completes and it still wouldn’t be enough for the Hive, but Monday night’s (Sept. 16) airing of Making The Gift ought to tide them over until the next album. 

Beyonce opens the film speaking on the intuitive connection she feels whenever a trip to Africa is on the itinerary and her goals that her three children experience the same. “It’s like I’m making peace with the part of me that’s yearning for an ancestral connection,” she shares as a variety of clips flash across the screen. There are dancers dressed in flowy garments, heavily pigmented outfits against the minimal beauty of a number of African landscapes. If The Gift is nothing else, it certainly is timely.    

Afrobeat was a force, both this year and last, with artists like Davido and Afro B on the frontlines of the movement in 2018 and Burna Boy (who is blessed with his own song on The Gift) leading the charge in 2019. Rhythms clearly inspired by African drums have popped up everywhere within the last couple of years, so The Gift was a win since inception. 

But to be fair, it is a solid album -- whose main criticism is the fact that it mainly pulled from the continent’s west side for talent and inspiration. Seems that the Parkwood team made a note and was sure to include all of the countries the Knowles-Carters visited in the film, including Kenya, Burundi, Egypt and Ethiopia -- all in Eastern Africa. There’s even a moment once they return to the States, where Blue Ivy explains the significance of the beading in the Kenyan headdress  she wore to her grandmother’s Wearable Art Gala back in June 2019.  

The album, which Beyonce calls her “love letter to Africa,” is inspired by the movie as well as time spent on the continent throughout her 20-plus year career. She reveals that she was overwhelmed by the offer from Disney to co-star as the voice of Nala, claiming The Lion King to be her favorite movie as a child.

“I didn’t wanna take away the grit and the reality,” she insists. “Because there are very real life lessons on The Lion King. I did not want to water it down or lose the authenticity of Africa and it all starts with the drum beat and the groove.”

“It was also really important to me that the music was not the typical soundtrack but something that kids felt safe and excited about sharing with their parents as well as their parents [wanting to share] with their kids.”

Throughout the film, we catch glimpses of the rarely-seen Carter twins, quick peeks that feel intimate, more than a few moments long, with Beyonce testing Rumi on animal sounds. We see Blue Ivy growing into a young lady who finds no real use for the written lyrics of “Brown Skin Girl” -- as her mom holds the paper, she merely glances at it and sings it all into the mic from memory. 

Throughout the film, Beyonce shows us her process: she scats until something clicks in front of the mic. She hits long runs with her voice, again and again. At one point toward the end of the documentary, she sits and a piano and tenderly sings the lyrics to “Spirit” with only the keys backing her vocals. It always goes back to the music.

“Kendrick sent me something back that sounded like your subconscious,” she explained. “It felt like that moment before you pass on, where your life sort of flashes and you’re fighting for your life.” What a way to describe a K Dot verse.

The spotlight is also on each and every one of the up-and-coming African stars included on the album, from producers Lord Afrixana and Shizzi to Moonchild Sanelly, Tiwa Savage and Shatta Wale. Beyonce reveals in Making of that the team didn’t have a lot of time to put the project together but those with a certain level of passion, came to Parkwood Entertainment in Los Angeles, ready to work. “When I saw all these people,” Shizzi says, “Then it was real, it felt like home a little bit.”

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