We talk to Ghanaian-British artist Kojey Radical about this "Bambu" music video, the lead single from his EP due later in 2015.
In mid-March, British-Ghanaian artist Kojey Radical dropped "Bambu," the darkly enthralling single from an EP due later this year. The spoken-word artist, poet, and creative director recently shared the song's music video, a starkly beautiful piece of work that shows Radical searching for truth in a gray, money-raining town. As the visuals circulate around the internet, the London-based artist and the video's South African director Alex Motlhabane spoke to us via e-mail about its creation, the meaning of "street poetry," and the relevance the video has for Africa.
Okayafrica: How did you go about making the already frighteningly vivid "Bambu" song into a music video that is even more so?
Kojey Radical: Vision, we had clear intentions when making this video. It wasn't about simply dictating a narrative it was about taking the exact words you've used to describe the visual and using that to paint a portrait. This visual is something we want people to discover and discuss; the pace of music and popular culture these days often causes us to skip over the details. The song already highlights everything I wanted to say about societal and cultural issues; what the video does is offer another perspective.
OKA: What went into the creation of such jarring images as money raining down on the main character and the woman, for example, or the main character gravely eating an orange?
Alex Motlhabane: We really just set out to put up powerful images to accompany the song. And those references are straight from the song. Everything just came together organically. It's just making sure you shoot them in the right context. Aesthetically the young black woman, the chain mail dress & the money raining down is simple enough but its the connotations that give it depth.
KR: Every scene has a connotation, some even strangely ironic but all the while presented with such an air of serious confidence. We spent a while writing a lot of scenes and when it came down to the shoot days we left a lot of those ideas behind and trusted our voices as young creatives and film makers.
Photo:Craig Most Popular Human
OKA: You've said that "Bambu" is an acronym for 'Be.Aware.Media.Binds.Us.' Can you elaborate on that idea? How did you try to express it in the music video for "Bambu Never Worried"?
KR: Be Aware Media Blinds Us was one of the concepts behind the record and choice in artistic direction. I realise with a lot of my work I try and put forward this idea of awareness, holding a mirror to the issues raised by human complexity. We’re in an age where the media shapes our perception both intentionally & unintentionally and that’s evident in the way we engage with media. Engagement can be monetised and related to series of psychological rules; primitively our minds attribute lighter with better so when presented with such we react better. This is evident in the voice of the little girl who see's a picture of Grace Jones, a beautiful signer, songwriter, model & actress on the cover of NightClubbing (1981) and her first reaction is "Why is her skin so dark?”
I think what is “black” within media has gone through so many stages of celebration and scrutiny the way we look at “black” has been warped. As an aesthetic & culture it’s been celebrated and adopted, but from a social stand point it’s worn as this sort of handicap as if the strength in melanin is an extra credit to things we are all within our means of achieving. We took the strength of melanin, personified that and celebrated the unity in difference.
AM: The video plays around with the stereotypical hood video that's prominent in the media. And we kind of appropriated that and put our spin on it so it mirrored or amplified the message of the song. Kojey pointed out that the dancing is a representation of the struggles of inner city life. Coincidently, especially recently, through the media you kind of learn that the black man's plight is something we're only really comfortable experiencing through the lens but not in reality. People love The Wire but when an unarmed kid gets shot, they assassinate his character because he smoked weed before. It’s all there.
OKA: As both the lead actor and co-director, what was making the video like? While on set, how did you go about keeping the spirit of the song while dealing with any logistical challenges of making a music video?
KR: I have an amazing team that keep me focused and excited to keep working. Making the video was a great experience. Everyone involved was so dedicated to making this visual as great as it could be. We made this video with nothing; but even with nothing we all knew making this video was important. I tend to push myself a little too hard sometimes. We were shooting from early morning to sunset in the cold but the footage that came from those scenes made it all worth it by the end of it.
OKA: Like the song itself, the music video for "Bambu" seems to convey a kind of 'street poetry,' showing a stark, almost apocalyptic city. What is 'street poetry' exactly to you?
KR: I don’t know what a street poet is. I write poetry and I grew up on what people would consider the streets but poetry is a form communication and I used it to detail my surroundings. I wouldn’t let that define me. That’s the power of poetry
AM: People associate poetry with truth and the streets with "keeping it real," raw and unapologetic.
KR: Life can sometimes feel as if you’re standing in a crowd of people yelling at a person who's not listening. Sometimes, people stop yelling long enough to look around at what the issue is and realise it’s a lot easier to speak. Sometimes, people realise you learn more when you listen. I hope to add a voice and I hope someone listens.
OKA: Talking to The Fader about the music video, you said, "...This is London. This is our culture and reflection of its appropriations." What relevance do you think the video has for Africa, though?
KR: It has every bit of relevance; Africa is probably one of the main victims of appropriating hip-hop culture despite the fact it’s history and traditions played an influential part in the origins. If we exclude the reach of the internet, a lot of our pop music culture hits Africa late, sometimes not at all. Much of the popular music culture that does reach Africa is soaked in this idea of glamour; even if the media is showing off street culture it causes people to respond in a way that mimics that particular slice of life. I do not wish to place us (Africa) in the position of the victim but the same aspects of popular culture we mimic are often not real themselves. We could and should be doing more to use our mediums as a form of communication.
AM: Being British and being a Londoner are just roads that happen to intersect with being African. I feel as members of the African diaspora it's important for us to keep that connection with Africa and to keep that dialogue open. Music, film, and art in general is a way of communicating what our experience is like.
KR: I am proud to be from Ghana. Growing up in London I used to try and hide the fact I’m African, I was taught through parts of the media that it came with a sense of weakness. The naivety of children is a wonderful but dangerous thing; I would watch TV and see loads of happy faces from the western world but before we had cable TV the only representation of Africa I remember seeing was starving children in charity adverts. Skip forward some years when we had access to African music channels and all I remember seeing as a child was grown African men wearing sunglasses in chains and jewels boasting their detriments. My father and my uncle spoke to me and personally asked me to be a voice to a generation of Africans; I didn’t realise what they meant by that but I realised I can use my work to lead by example.