Yemi Alade almost missed the opportunity to collaborate with Beyoncé on The Lion King: The Gift album…twice.
The award-winning Nigerian superstar was part of the nine African musicians featured on the surprise album, which debuted this week at number 2 on the Billboard 200 Chart. The likes of Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Salatiel, Raye and Wizkid were all curated and produced by Queen Bey in this unique blend of African sounds and talent.
But Alade, a self-professed Beyoncé stan, admits she might have missed collaborating with her distant “mentor” because her team initially dismissed the email invitation from Parkwood Entertainment as a scam.
“At first we didn’t think it was a legit email. We kind of ignored it for quite a long time,” Alade told ESSENCE in a phone call from Lagos, Nigeria. “And then randomly, I went through a conversation with someone and realized it was real.”
What followed was a mad scramble to get in touch—almost two months late—to see if there was still a chance at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Weeks later Alade found herself flying to Los Angeles for a multi-day recording session with the Parkwood team.
With only days left to record, she found out she would be competing with over 150 songs that the Parkwood team had already picked from what appears to have been hundreds of samples, recordings and sounds sent in from artists all over the world.
Plus, it didn’t help Alade had lost her voice soon after she landed.
“It shocked me so much that I was just weak,” she said. “I had nothing to say I had no reaction. I didn’t know what to do. I could hardly speak. I could hardly sing,”
Alade continued: “Of what use am I if I have no voice?”
Overcoming obstacles is not a new thing for Alade, who came from humble beginnings to become one of the most recognizable artists on the continent. She is an African giant in her own right, but she admits being acknowledged by her idol was a game-changer.
Indeed, despite the odds against Alade, she ended being one of two artists to be featured more than once on the album with the songs “Don’t Jealous Me” and “My Power” (the other was fellow Nigerian Mr Eazi).
The “Mama Africa” singer was also one of the few African women featured on an album that Beyoncé has described as her “love letter to Africa.”
The others: Nigeria’s Tiwa Savage (“Keys To The Kingdom”), South Africa’s Moonchild Sanelly (“My Power”) and South Africa’s Busiswa (“My Power’).
The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is not lost on any of them, all of whom admit to being huge Beyoncé fans as it is.
“I feel extremely blessed and lucky that I made it on the project,” Busiswa told ESSENCE from her native South Africa. She credits social media as the reason she was able to get on board.
Last month, she happened to be in the studio with Mr Eazi and mega-producer Guilty Beatz and a photo of the session was posted on Guilty’s Instagram stories. Soon after, the Parkwood team reached out to the men—who had both already done work for the album—asking if Busiswa would be interested in recording something.
“I got hot flashes immediately,” she said. “ I said, ‘Of course I’m interested!’”
Parkwood sent over the beat and she recorded some samples in a mobile studio in a Johannesburg hotel room.
Her work that day would end up on the female anthem “My Power,” alongside Beyoncé, Tierra Whack, Alade, Moonchild Sanelly and Nija. And by choosing to rap her verse in Zulu, she says she was proud to add a distinctively South African sound to the album.
“I am glad they chose the verse they did. All I wanted to do was create a verse that South African could be proud of,” she said. “That everyone could hear and know this is us, this is who we are. That it is original. That it is South African… I feel like a proud daughter of Mzansi right now.”
Moonchild Sanelly, known in South Africa for her signature blue hair and free spirit lifestyle, also made it on the track. She says that once she was in touch with Parkwood, she was constantly sending music to them without knowing how it would be used.
“I was just like I have to give it my everything,” she told ESSENCE. “I added the final parts to [My Power] and have been over the moon since knowing who I was doing this with and for.”
Alade describes her experience is L.A. as magical and a big part was because the Parkwood team “treated us like royalty, which we are.”
Indeed, these women might be new discoveries to many around the world, but they are big stars in their countries and across Africa. In many ways, they didn’t necessarily need this co-sign from Beyoncé to keep thriving. But for a continent that has become used to being misrepresented and misunderstood by the world around them, this acknowledgment is worth celebrating.
“I think is a good look for me, and definitely a good look for [Beyoncé] because she is unapologetically being African,” Alade said, who is preparing to release her fourth studio album Woman Of Steel. “Because she doesn’t need to pay any homage to her roots. But the fact that she did, I think is a great look also for her and I see a lot of brown skin girls raising their heads higher than they’ve ever done.”
As for the impact on the careers, Busiswa says that within three days of the album dropping, she had quickly gained 30,000 Instagram followers–a small perk of benefits she expects to see years from now. She is already trying to reach out to anyone she has ever wanted to work with from Burna Boy to even Alade.
“For my music to have been recognized by Beyoncé and her team, it’s a big moment,” she said. “I am just hoping that all of the ladies that are trying to make it in the music industry understand anything can happen. That a girl from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape can take it all the way to the top. Can make it on a collaboration with the greatest artist of our time.”
As Alade briefly basks in the glow of The Lion King: The Gift, she can’t help but think of a moment with her mother early in her career.
“She asked me, ‘What about Beyoncé? When are you going to do songs with Beyoncé?'” said Alade.
“I would laugh and laugh, but she’d ask me that question almost every day like she had seen it. So I definitely give my mom the praise because I feel like she helped me to put it out there in the universe, you know? And it happened,” she said. “Nothing is impossible.”Share :