Oshun: The African Goddess Behind Beyonce’s Lemonade
With contributions by Monica Cadena
The Beehive and Black women across the country got in formation last weekend after Beyonce dropped her latest album, “Lemonade.” Unpromoted and unapologetically Black, “Lemonade” broke the internet, and featured a bevy of names such as Serena Williams, Zendaya, and the women we’ve come to call the mothers of Black Lives Matter Movement. Critics and hardcore fans decoded every word, eye stare, switch, pose, shade drop, for any particle of meaning.
With a running time of an hour, Lemonade is a tour-de-force galore of #blackgirlmagic and Black power. But while we’re all impressed with the stunning cinematography, Lemonade is far more than a visual smorgasbord caressing our optics. Lemonade’s true power derives from its message about how black women, holding the weight of the race’s shoulders each and every day, navigate various forms of trauma. Be it personal, as in Bey dealing with the facts of her father fathering a child out of wedlock, or her own man’s — rap entrepreneur Jay-Z — rumored affair with fashion designer Rachel Roy. Be it state, as in Black mothers losing their children to police violence for no other reason than that he or she is taking up residence in a black body; be it racial, as in the sheer, everyday reality of being Black in America. “Lemonade” combines the personal and the political, creating an homage to the legacy of Black women surviving against the odds of living while Black and woman — making lemonade outta the lemons they’re dealt.
For good measure, Bey also incorporates African theology into the mix, framing the modern Black woman’s struggle around the figure of Yoruban goddess Oshun, an African deity known for her abilities as a healer, nurturer, and lover. She is also known as “the ruler of ‘sweet waters’ as well as ‘bringer of song and dance.’ It is this spirit that Bey channels to present essence of Black women to her audience.
And who can forget her quoting the “Black, shining prince” himself, as the late Ossie Davis put it, Malcolm X when he stood before an audience and said, “Black women are the most disrespected group in America.”
I know some folks are trying to say that Lemonade ain’t all that, that it’s more of the same, that it’s Bey doing what Bey does — singing about heartache, broken relationships, and badassness. I beg to differ. Lemonade is more than a pretty face twerking and wrecking havoc on shit. It’s motifs and theme reveal a Black woman that’s come into her own, and whose using her status and platform to empower Black women in the best way she knows how: preserving their story, their “sweet water,” for the ages in her music.