I’d like to think I’m writing this after seeing the best video category from this year’s South African Music Awards nomination’s list.But it was rather going through a friend’s external hard drive and coming across 2PAC’s How Do You Want It with the brothers K-Ci & JoJo.
It was the triple ‘X’ in the title of the video that got my attention. Bar the excitement my body couldn’t hide from seeing erotic scenes, I actually sat there pondering for what seemed like an eternity, on the paucity of X-rated versions of music videos.
I grew up in a time where tracks had two versions of the video, the dirty one and the clean version for prime time television. Artists still make clean versions of their songs for radio and will have the explicit joints on their albums. Dirty doesn’t only pertain to women gyrating their rears in front of the camera; it is what viewers deem offensive. Be it nudity, unpleasant language or the depiction of violence in a music video-and more.
Rapper Jay-Z found himself in some trouble for his 99 Problems video. Shot in Brooklyn, New York the video depicts life for niggers in the hood and the city. In the last scene, a defenceless Jigga is shot at multiple times on a sidewalk. It was viewed as something done in bad taste. So bad, that MTV would only broadcast the video with an introduction from Jay-Z explaining that it was a metaphorical death, not a real one. I know right, my eyes rolled too.
Black Entertainment Television (BET) designated their late hours to these explicit music videos, in a programme called BET Uncut. Uncut aired from 2001 till 2006, playing mostly Hip Hop videos with gross sexual imagery that had many teenagers risk getting an ass-whipping just to watch their favourite artists, next to some of the finest booty you’ll ever see.
A slew of explicit Hip Hop videos aired in those five years but nothing was raunchier than Nelly’s Tip Drill which saw dudes in throwback jerseys, du-rags and Air Forces at a house party that probably had three naked women for each fella in the video. I remember first seeing the video on a friend’s computer while in high school, with a grin on my face marvelling at why we never have such house parties when we decide to bunk school.
BET Uncut came to an end after many complaints about the show being distasteful and constituting soft porn. Rightfully so, it was.
In South Africa, artists play it safe. If they create videos which are polarizing, it’s usually for their “strong” tone on politics or social issues.
Last year a complaint came to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission South Africa (BCCSA) about Kwesta’s Spirit music video. The viewer’s grievance was about the slaughtering of chicken in some of the scenes. The rapper was also accused of trying to score political points by burning the old South African flag in the video.
In 2014 The Zimbabwean government under Robert Mugabe’s rule, turned away South African band Freshly Ground as soon as they landed at the Harare International airport , with no reason as to why. But in 2010, the collective released Chicken to Change, mocking Mugabe’s stubborn grip to power since the country gained independence in 1980. Guess Uncle Bob couldn’t let them get away with what they did four years prior.
South Africa has banned more ads and artwork than it has music videos.
Music and videos that the average viewer might find offence, are not officially banned but ghosted. You wouldn’t find Die Antwoord’s videos on MTVBase, simply because a censored version would usurp the video of its punch.
The internet has given directors and artists the liberty in their video-making, to create without fear of being ostracized by mainstream media for their authenticity.
The creative freedom is refreshing,especially because for so long,men have dictated what images of women are shown. Now women can decide how they want to be seen, Beyoncé is a fine case in point.
IT was Kenyan author and philosopher John Mbiti who said “I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am.” It’s Ubuntu. I couldn’t think of anything else, as I heard the story behind the making of Cameroonian artist Blick Bassy’s music video, Ngwa.
“…it’s inspired by a Kenyan story and a South African freedom fighter, the whole album is about a Cameroonian guy…and somehow put all that in a pot and cook it and see what comes out. I think if there’s a future for African art that’s it,” said director Tebog ‘Tebza’ Malope speaking at Blik’s screening in Joburg. Hosted in a chic lower ground floor in Braamfontein, where African jazz oozes from speakers above us, under warm burgundy lights at the Untitled Basement, off kilter attendees converse in their huddles as they eagerly wait to see the video on a Thursday night.
The song Ngwa is from Blick’s upcoming album, 1958 which comes out in March. 1958 is an ode to Cameroonian trade unionist and France adversary, Ruben Um Nyobè and the heroes of the Cameroonian Independence-all in the hope of reconnecting Cameroonians with their true history. Um Nyobè was butchered in 1958 by the French government and buried in concrete to remove any remnant of his legacy in the memory of Cameroonians.
“…making this project and telling Um Nyobè’s story, it was really important for me to come to Africa, to make it here and with people from here. People don’t know my country, they just know this one view coming from one storyteller, coming from a Western country. But here you have a beautiful storyteller, this is storytelling through this video. We have to show things by ourselves,” Blick shares his thought on the Ngwa video.
“He was a fighter, a visionary…he was someone who wanted to build people, not just for freedom but he wanted everyone to be equal. Um Nyobè was fighting for this. If you look at Cameroon today, we’re just living everything he was talking about-we have a lot of tribalism in Cameroon today, he spoke about this. So if we really wana go forward, we have to be connected to the roots-that’s why trees are beautiful, because with no roots there’s no tree.”
To visually tell this story, Blick roped in South African director Tebza, who borrowed from African narratives, to tell the story of these uncelebrated heroes. “I was reading Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o’s book called Matigari and the first chapter is about a Mau Mau soldier, in East Africa in Kenya who, in the first chapter has his AK47…somebody runs up the mountain to tell him ‘yo, we don’t have to train anymore, we’re free now. So come down’…” said Tebza explaining the inspiration.
After burying his rifle and descending from the mountain, the soldier grows a sense of disenchantment with this new world, as it seems he was sold a dream only for him to lay down his arms. “Same narrative with South Africa, same narrative with Cameroon. So when I started chatting with Blick about Um Nyobè, I realised there’s some sorta intersection between East, West and Southern Africa…”
The video was shot on the mountains of Lesotho, in wet and icy temperatures. “This was probably my hardest shoot ever. The horror stories behind this; we lost a day because of someone who was stuck at the boarder gate, we lost half a day because of the rain, had some trouble finding the horses because they ran often and just one thing after another,” says Tebza, who last year won the Best Music Video for Kwesta’s Spirit.
Renowned television and movie director Roli Nikiwe, who was present on the night, drove the crew to Lesotho and upon getting there, he offered to help by being the first AD, looking for locations and even assisting with the catering. “Africans always come together to complain about the enemy, the coloniser, but put two Africans together and there’s beauty. To watch the two of you guys, get together and put your heads together, make something work, for me was a beautiful example of what we could do as a continent,” said Nikiwe.
The video has beautiful wide shots that display the beauty of the African landscape. “…There’s rarely a close-up, because I just want you to see it. We’re talking about Africa that was taken from us, so let’s show it and see what was taken,” said the director.
The video ends off with Blick being stabbed with a spear by pursuing imperialists on open land “…The last bit is actually taken from Solomon Mahlangu’s statement before they hung him, ‘my blood will nourish the tree of freedom’…so in death, in Ruben Um Nyobè’s death, Solomon Mahlangu’s death, in the death of so many of our struggle heroes, they didn’t really die, they multiply, they became trees and they live on forever,” shared Tebza.