If you’re at all up to date with pop culture, Beyoncé’s Black Is King is bound to have made its way onto your news feed. The film, which debuted July 31 on Disney+, reimagines the story of Simba’s journey in The Lion King while celebrating pan-African identity and culture. It is a visual companion to The Lion King: The Gift, an album inspired by Jon Favreaus’ 2019 The Lion King live action remake film. Although Beyoncé receives top credit in direction and production, Black Is King is the product of mass African creative collaboration, featuring the work of veteran and emerging Black musicians, writers, fashion designers, and of course, choreographers. As in any music video, dance is an integral component, and the choreographers involved in the film’s production played an important role in bringing African dance to the big screen.
Noted as one of the most sought-after commercial choreographers in the world, Knight has worked on music videos and concert tours for Beyoncé, Ke$ha, Chris Brown, Kelly Rowland, Britney Spears and more. After landing his big break at 18 choreographing the Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) music video, Knight has been a longtime collaborator with Beyoncé, going on to choreograph tours, Super Bowl halftime shows, Coachella performances, and the Lemonade visual album. He is accredited as the top choreographer for Black Is King.
Knight’s iconic dance moves on Beyoncé ‘s “Single Ladies” garnered an MTV VMA Award for Best Choreography, an MTV Video of the Year, and a BET Video of the Year Award in 2009. The video also stars Ashely Everett and Ebony Williams, who contributed to choreography in “Black Is King.”
Beyoncés 2018 Coachella Performance
Beyonce’s 2018 Coachella performance was a tribute to the homecoming game experience at historically black colleges and universities, set to a marching band accompaniment. Knight incorporated African American dance styles that are popular in Black Greek life like flexing and stepping into the set’s choreography.
Stephen “Papi” Ojo is a self-taught dancer who was born in Nigeria and immigrated with his family to the U.S in 2008. Ojo started the dance group A.V.O (Africa’s Very Own) Boyz, gathering international attention from both Nigerian musicians like Wizkid and U.S popstars like Rihanna, who featured him in her 2018 Grammy’s performance. Since then, Ojo has been responsible for teaching African dance moves to numerous U.S stars from Janet Jackson to Big Sean and A$AP Ferg.
Ojo’s first collaboration with Beyonce was helping choreograph and dance in the music video to “Spirit,” the featured new single in Disney’s The Lion King, in 2019. He taught her team African dance movements like the network from Ghana and the kpakujemu from Nigeria.
Ojo played a larger role in Black Is King as a choreographer, lead dancer, and actor. He plays the “blue man”, a recurring motif who helps guide Simba on his journey to manhood. Ojo is responsible for teaching Beyonce Afro-dance moves like the gbese in his choreography to her Already music video featuring Major Lazer and Shatta Wale.
By guest blogger Gabrielle Bohrman
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Header photo (c) TRAVIS MATTHEWS / DISNEY