Beychella: A Lesson in Black Culture and HBCUs via Beyoncé at Coachella
By: Nicole Howard
When Beyoncé sings the Black National Anthem during her set at a music festival you know it’s about to go down!
She took a moment to say what this performance meant to her and represented. She recognized that she is the first Black artist to headline the music festival and thanked those who opened the doors so that this moment could be possible.
Beyoncé has made it clear who she is and where she comes from. To me, these last few years have been a whole other level from the black history and culture in the Lemonade video (see Lemonade syllabus) to performing Formation with styling that represented the Black Panthers during her Super Bowl Bowl performance. Coachella was no different. I am convinced her creativity and execution is Flawless.
Reppin' for Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs)
What better way to display Black Excellence and Black pride than showing the world the culture of Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs). These institutions were established prior to 1964, with a mission to provide education for black American. From the styling to the dance moves, you feel like you witnessed the production that is an HBCU homecoming and fraternity or sorority probate.
Why is this historic? Beyoncé is the first African-American woman to headline this festival.
Right now there is so much focus on race relations that we are constantly enduring trauma inducing images of injustice against Black people from being arrested for sitting in a Starbucks to the constant b-roll of black deaths on camera, black sorrow during press conferences following and finally the uprising of black protests. According to the HBCU Digest, enrollment at HBCUs has seen an increase. The theory is Black students are looking for safe places to receive their education without the added layer of dealing with racism on campus.
However, the Black excellence, the beauty of our culture is pushing itself forward and it’s thanks to those creators who are using their platforms to say this is actually who we are. Our culture and history are important and should continue to be pushed into the mainstream light because our art has a voice. But, this voice also has buying power and if you didn’t know Google box office sales for Black Panther. Also, check for the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in America -- or the college degree attainment statistics for Black women.
Since the Coachella broadcast was live-streamed on YouTube it opened up the ability expand the reach past the festival attendees. Viewers at home could still experience that special connection to say I see myself up there. It’s this idea of not having to hide who you are in a space where everyone doesn't ’t look like you. (cc: code-switching).
Women Empowerment & Sisterhood
Another theme that Beyoncé demonstrated was representing women (insert Run the World Girls lyrics). She displayed sisterhood with the highly anticipated reunion of Destiny’s Child dressed in sparkly military fatigue and she also danced with her sister Solange to the song Get Me Bodied. She made sure to play the clip of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from her speech We should all be feminists. She included the track Don’t Hurt Yourself from her Lemonade album and playing the Malcolm X quote featured in her song, "The most disrespected person in America is the black woman." The female solos from the symbols to the baton and even what the fashion industry would call "plus-size" women as partners in one of the dances.
Honoring our Favs in Black Music
Of course, the musical references were amazing such as Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, Juvenile and Dawn Penn (Checkout the setlist on Tidal). The cultural references to HBCUs included the stepping, the probate scene, the marching band/drumline with dancers and a majorette. It was really cool to see Les Twins dancing and the pop locking and krumping dance forms included as well. Throughout the performance, you could see the familiar dances in hip-hop culture included the Swag Surf which finds it’s way to many Black dance events or homecomings or even the White House lawn (trust me it happened).
Black Pride All in Her Fashion
Also, it’s all in the details. Her outfits paid homage to African queens and Black fraternities/sororities. The coat of arms on her outfit included a black raised fist, a bee, a black panther, and the profile of an African Queen. On her head was something similar to drum major hat and an Egyptian royal headdress, with a cane, and one of her outfits had a sequenced image of the side profile of an African queen. Her dancers wore the image of Queen Nefertiti.
In other words, her performance will be remembered as a trip down memory lane even if you didn’t attend an HBCU like me you most likely still witness a Black probate or homecoming show. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, or what you just saw. Start here: the video included in the Essence article about HBCU increases in enrollment demonstrates the main elements of a homecoming event. Speaking of HBCU enrollment, Beyoncé just helped some students decide they may want to consider attending.
Thank you, Beyoncé for not being afraid to show the world our culture and our pride and all the Black Girl Magic that you can possibly fit in two hours.
UPDATE! She announced an expansion of her scholarship of $25,000 in education grants to HBCU students from Xavier, Wilberforce, Tuskegee and Bethune-Cookman Universities.