The Woman Behind Beyoncé’s African Head Tie in “Black Is King”

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

Beyoncé’s latest visual album Black Is King on Disney+ treated viewers to a spectacular display of culture from several African countries. The film serves as a visual companion to last year’s The Lion King: The Gift album which serves as a framework to explore Africa’s beauty and rich history. Black Is King was filmed in a variety of locations all over the world including Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Beyoncé had said that with this visual album she hoped to “present elements of Black history and African tradition, with a modern twist and a universal message, and what it truly means to find your self-identity and build a legacy.”

Photo: Parkwood Entertainment

The fashion in Black Is King, conveys the diversity and collective grandeur that effortlessly drips from the continent. Beyoncé’s stylist, Zerina Akers, served as the costume designer for the film and commissioned custom designs from a galore of designers from the continent and the African diaspora. To ensure that the cultural Nigerian attire looked impeccable they needed to bring in an expert to masterfully tie the geles (traditional Nigerian head wraps). Known by her community for her ability to flawlessly execute this task, one introduction led to Azeezat Amusat finding herself on the set of Black Is King styling Queen Bey’s gele.

So how does one become a gele tying expert? The path was not an obvious one for Amusat. Born in Lagos, Nigeria as the first of seven children, she received a degree in Philosophy from Lagos State University and went on to work with the Nigerian Defense Academy as a Counselor of Psychology. In 2008 she won a Visa lottery to the United States where she went to nursing school and worked as a hospice nurse for ten years. Amusat’s passion had always been fashion and in 2013 she learned of a school where people are taught how to tie gele and the art of makeup.

Azeezat Abiola Amusat

Photo: Azeezat Abiola Amusat

Amusat’s love for gele is rooted in her heritage as a Nigerian woman. A tradition that may have started as early as the 1700s, geles are worn during special occasions to accessorize the traditional attire. They come in many shapes and sizes and the head wrap is made from a vast array of colorful cloths. Different regions have their own unique way of tying their gele so you can tell where someone is from based on how they have theirs tied. The way in which a gele is worn can also be indicative of marital status.

For eight years Amusat has been tying geles at weddings, parties and even at funerals on dead bodies for families who want to send off their dearly departed in traditional dress. “My favorite thing about tying gele is that I am able to use my skill to promote a culture that fills me with so much pride,” she tells Amplify Africa. So what better opportunity to do just that than with the one and only Beyoncé Knowles Carter, whose vision was to depict divine images of Black people. Black Is King is filled with stunningly striking fashion statements that pay homage to Nigerian tradition. Amusat was responsible for tying each gele on the women who wore them as crowns of the ultimate expression of femininity.

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Amusat has displayed her gele designs at several exhibitions across the country including at African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization and Style organized by Fowler Museum, UCLA. “The beauty of the gele is in the tying of it,” Amusat, a recipient of multiple awards for tying gele, told us. “One can find the simplified already sewn ones but they do not look the same nor do they fit as well as one that is directly wrapped onto the head.” Geles can be elaborately glamorous or subtly distinguished based on what type of material is chosen. “Beyonce opted for a look that fit the story she was telling,” Amusat says, “she was representing the look from the 1960s and ‘70s era so the materials were carefully selected to reflect that vision.”

When we spoke with her, Amusat interestingly likened tying a gele to life with three fundamental points to always remember;

1. Be patient - the results we seek do not come right away, but rather after a gradual process and we must practice patience while we learn

2. Be humble always - humility will take you places, “put yourself down and let God lift you up,” is her life motto she shared with Amplify Africa

3. Be hardworking - the time and effort you put in behind closed doors will always elevate you to new levels of success

Photos: Behind the Scenes of Black Is King via Azeezat Amusat

Working on such a massive project with one of the greatest entertainers of our time was a dream come true for Amusat. “The best part of the experience was meeting Beyoncé,” she gushes, “she is such an authentic individual with a work ethic unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” Extremely humbled and grateful to contribute to such a monumental project that promotes her culture so exquisitely, Amusat told us, “Beyoncé loves everything about the African culture. She appreciated every aspect of the attire, and it was an honor to tie the geles for her and all the other women in the film."

Photo: Parkwood Entertainment

Amusat contributes much of her success to her parents and the beautiful upbringing she was blessed to have. Her goal was always to make them proud and achieving that has brought her much joy. We asked her who would be next on dream list of people to collaborate with. With no hesitation she replied enthusiastically, “Barack and Michelle Obama."

Photo: Azeezat Abiola Amusat