Culture
Photo by Joshua Kissi

Meji Alabi Is the Creative Force Behind Your Favorite Afrobeats Videos

We speak with Nigerian director, Meji Alabi, about the process of creating unforgettable music videos for the likes of Maleek Berry, Tiwa Savage, Runtown and more.

Shot on location at The Shrine, Meji Alabi's video for “Ma Lo" by Tiwa Savage depicts Lagos nightlife as a heady and hedonist bliss featuring large amounts of smoke and drink, scuffling thugs, loving couples, steamy dancing, palm fronds and the tag-team of Savage and Wizkid—a visual feast that improves on an already winning song produced by Spellz. The video went on to shock Nigerians online by amassing 500,000 views in its first day.


The audio version of a new song might float on the many streaming services as though orphaned, but only when a video is released does it earn a new life on YouTube where visual interpretation, for good or bad, determines if a song will be viewed again—and the song enjoyed again.

Afropop's reigning queen, Tiwa Savage's decision to have Alabi direct two of the singles on her project—“Ma Lo" and “Sugarcane"—attests to the quality of his work, which, in turn, is a potent addition to her brand.

“Major thing for the music video medium is that you take the song elsewhere," says Alabi. “You give a song extra legs." This is his guiding principle which would apply to any music video and is a philosophy he takes very seriously. In the video for “Sugarcane," released a few days before the New Year, Alabi utilized tableau photography; where the composed artificiality is heightened by pastel colours, bold makeup and doll-like theatricality. He brought a similar sensibility to “Kontrol" by Maleek Berry, the hit single off his Last Daze of Summer EP.

“It's definitely a look that people have attached to me especially since 'Kontrol'...and it's cool. Why not?" Alabi says.

Photo by Joshua Kissi

In the back of a London Starbucks, I put it to Alabi that his visual style would seem to fall into two broad categories: one influenced by the striking colours of pop art as seen in “Kontrol" and “Sugarcane," and the other is characterised by high taste in fashion and conceptual art, as seen in Asa's “Satan Be Gone" music video and visual for Seyi Shay's “Crazy." Alabi disagrees. “I like to dabble," he insists. “You know what I mean? So whether it's fashion or whether it's pop art, or something a bit more gritty and real, I've shot a lot of different things along the spectrum. I think I'm very versatile."

Watching his videos again after the interview, I realised that I might've simplified his range to make sorting through his many videos easier. The bubblegum palette of “Kontrol" and “Sugarcane" and the high ideals of religiosity in “Satan Be Gone" and concept and performance art in “Crazy" do not accurately represent his entire visual range, but are simply the apotheosis of either categories.

This might even be independent of whether or not he believes the classification exists in his oeuvre. Alabi's overwhelming concern when shooting is usually with the precise task at hand. “We think about every little thing in the frame to make sure that as an overall picture it grabs the viewer," he says. “I guess that's where you can say the fashion influence comes from."

As if to further dismantle my lazy theory, Alabi broaches a recent video he made. “All Night" which features Mr Eazi, is by British rapper Yungen, who's usually seen in casual streetwear devoid of any outre or recognisable personal taste: “We made him look a bit more high fashion than he normally does. It wasn't ultra high fashion where it's like, 'Oh my god what is he wearing.' He had some designers on. It was a bit different from his usual look."

Photo by Joshua Kissi

Alabi travels a lot for work, shooting in different countries and such a lifestyle, in his words, “allows you to gain a different perspective on life or even certain situations which definitely have an influence on my work consciously and subconsciously." Photos of an in-demand and globetrotting music video director may impress on Instagram but he says flying around a lot is the “worst part of travelling besides the security at airports" and most enjoyable is “being on the ground, eating the food, shooting dope stuff with people who you may never meet again—documenting history."

With such a peripatetic way of life, where then would he consider home? “I've always felt like an outside in my home countries," he says. “I have this weird accent where it is hard to put a place on it. But home for me is where the heart is and that's with my partner and children who are currently based in Sweden."

In July we wrote about “For Life" by Runtown in the article, the “Best Videos of 2017 So Far."

“Director Meji Alabi," we wrote, “has made the model as much a focus of the video as the artist, sometimes blurring out Runtown, when other directors would slavishly train the camera on the artist."

Set in a modest flat and the hallways of an estate block, as well as external shots around graffiti and shrubbery, the cast of two show a natural ease and genuine fondness you'd find in real life loving couples. As well as photo-stills, a recurring stylistic tick in the video has both leads in stationary poses which adds a studied coolness to it. Asked what the idea or inspiration is here, Alabi says:

“It just a mood. It's hard to explain but it's very easy to explain as well. A lot of emotions are unspoken. You know what I mean? When you kiss somebody, the moment before the kiss is actually just as important as the kiss itself, if not more important. The way they look at each other. The way maybe one's lip flinches or something like that. That moment there is just as important. Really, it's about capturing the in-between, not just the action itself. And there you find a lot of beauty in between, the subtleties."

Photo by Joshua Kissi

Has he consciously developed these subtleties?

“I think it's just over time. I'm kind of a lover boy at heart. That's all it is." This sensibility in Alabi is helped by the rigour he brings to his work as explained by model Portia Okwocha from the Runtown video, her first: “I actually found it a little tense because I could tell he had a vision and I felt the pressure to execute it but he was very patient with me and he was happy to do a scene over and over again until every detail was touched on."

According to Lavern Thomas, manager to Poe, the first rapper signed to Don Jazzy's Mavins imprint, the video for Poe's first single “Man Already" was being directed by Tchisz Nelson, one of JM Film's staff directors, when Alabi offered to drop in and supervise. “Once on set," says Thomas, “Meji jumped straight into co-directing with Nelson, encouraging Poe to bring energy and conviction to his performance. He gives as much energy as he's expecting from his artists. It's contagious and helps to instil confidence."

This assiduousness identified in Alabi's videos and work ethic starts at the preparatory phase of a production and extends into his daily life. He keeps a paper notebook and writes treatments on his computer which is synced to a phone, which also does most of the physical information gathering so that “every time I see a photo, I snap it. Every time I see an advertisement I like, I take a picture. I'm getting into this film phase. I get a lot of ideas from people around me, really. The experiences that I've had, they hanging out. Life in itself is probably the best inspiration."

popular
Still from 'Black Lady Goddess'

Check Out the Trailer for 'Black Lady Goddess,' a Satirical Afro-futuristic Series

The upcoming series, by Chelsea Odufu, centers on a "time period where humans have not only found out that God is a Black woman, but reparations have been issued to each person of African descent."

Black Lady Goddess is a new series from Nigerian-Guyanese filmmaker and content creator Chelsea Odufu.

The upcoming show, described as a "satirical afro-futurisitc" tale, takes place in the year 2040, when humans have come into contact with their creator—a Black woman.

"[Black Lady Goddess] follows the life of young activist Ifeoma Washington who is coming into her own in this time period where humans have not only found out that God is a Black woman, but after reparations in the amount of $455,000 has been issued to each person of African descent," reads the official synopsis. The show highlights how those of African descent grapple with the effects of ongoing Western Hegemony.

Still from 'Black Lady Goddess'

The show is heavily inspired by the Dogon Tribe of Mali, a group that has pioneered the study of astronomy for decades, and centers the experiences of Black women. "Black Lady Goddess submerges us into a world where God is a woman breaking away from the usual representation of God being a masculine figure, which we see throughout western canonical literature," says Odufu in an artist statement. "The goal is to break the chains of patriarchy and show that women can hold positions of power, authority, cultural significance and even the highest position of all, the creator of the universe."

Still from 'Black Lady Goddess'

The first season consists of eight 22-minute episodes, created, directed and written by Chelsea Odufu and written and produced by Emann Odufu.

Be on the lookout for the series premiere and check out the trailer for the pilot episode of Black Lady Goddess below.

Black Lady Goddess Pilot Episode Official Trailer www.youtube.com

popular
(Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Bernardine Evaristo's Award-Winning Novel, 'Girl, Woman, Other,' Is Being Adapted Into a Film

The British-Nigerian author's Booker-prize winning book, about the lives of Black-British women, is headed to the big screen.

British-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo's Booker-prize winning novel Girl, Woman, Other is being adapted for the big screen by major British production company Potboiler Television, reports African literary site Brittle Paper.

The production company, helmed by BAFTA winning producer Andrea Calderwood and Gail Egan, is the same company behind the upcoming series adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah on HBO Max. Potboiler Television's previous productions also include the 2019 film The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
(Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Rejoice! WhatsApp Places New Restrictions on Chain Messages to Fight Fake News

To combat the spread of misinformation due to the coronavirus outbreak, users are now restricted from sharing frequently forwarded messages to more than one person.

The rise of the novel coronavirus has seen an increase in the spread of fake news across social media sites and platforms, particularly WhatsApp—a platform known as a hotbed for the forwarding of illegitimate chain messages and conspiracy theories (if you have African parents, you're probably familiar). Now the Facebook-owned app is setting in place new measures to try and curb the spread of fake news on its platform.

The app is putting new restrictions on message forwarding which will limit the number of times a frequently forwarded message can be shared. Messages that have been sent through a chain of more than five people can only subsequently be forwarded to one person. "We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful," announced the app in a blog post on Tuesday. "In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organize public moments of support for frontline health workers."

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

Sarkodie Hits Hard With His Latest Single 'Sub Zero'

The Ghanaian heavyweight rapper shows up with the fire bars over an Altra Nova-produced beat.

Sarkodie has dropped a new aggressive track in the shape of "Sub Zero."

"Sub Zero" follows the star Ghanaian rapper as he throws back criticisms that have come his way from other rappers with his own ice cold flow. The new track was produced by Ghanaian beatmaker Altra Nova and mixed by PEE On Da BeaT.

"Sub Zero" follows Sarkodie's turn-up single "Bumper," which dropped bak in February.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.