A CASE FOR A GHANAIAN MUSIC VIDEO DIRECTOR
The Ghanaian music industry has made a lot of progress and is gradually becoming an avenue for economic empowerment for a lot of young people in the country. Numerous artistes have built a sound economic footing because of their music careers. Other creative talents have also benefited from this. We cannot attribute this to one persons doing or the effort of a single entity. This has been a steady collective (intentional and unintentional) effort over the past decade. One of the most influential factors to this has been our music videos.
With Youtube becoming the go-to place for entertainment, music videos have become one of the most (if not the most) important drivers of the music industry. This is where most of us encounter the minds and work of numerous young Ghanaian filmmakers who are using music as a platform to start or build a film making career.
I grew up watching music videos on Ghana Television that I was amazed by. In the era where Director X had almost a million dollars to pull off a music video, Abraham Ohene Djan or Gyo Gyimah had about less than 1% of that to pull off a video for a hit song in Ghana. These pioneers created a narrative for our music and for Us. We loved these videos. We never compared them to what we saw on MTV or VH1 because we knew they didn’t match to that standard, but they were awesome pieces of work because these visionaries put thier heart into it. They made the impossible possible and put out aspirational images that spurred upcoming artistes, directors, graphic designers etc to believe and decide to put thier talents to use in the Ghana music industry.
Over 10 years later, there is a school of thought that Ghanaian music video directors have become lazy and are playing second fiddle to Nigerian music video directors. This argument is not new and not only present in music but it extends into fashion, film, dance and I dare even say soccer.
But my question is, have we as Ghanaians deliberately decided to explore our culture or our “assets” and made a conscious effort to build and promote our own or have we ( as usual) become gullible and are accepting what is foreign over what is Ghanaian?
I had a Nigerian artiste come to me for a music video and he begged because he didn’t have a lot of money. All he had was $3000 ( the exchange rate at the time gave me a little over ghc 9000) which was higher than the price of an average Ghanaian music video ; between ghc 2000 - 4000. Note that, this was years ago. (circa 2012-2013). I was baffled and happy because I had the chance to do something awesome. That quickly changed to sadness because he pointed out a video (from a Nigerian director) that he wanted. He wanted exactly that . He had even subconsciously learnt the movement of that particular artiste because, “he had to get it right!”. I ended up copying another music video for him, taking the money and I never added it to my reel or body of work. Why? Because I was ashamed. But I had to eat. Was he the only one who came to me with another music video as an idea? No. That encounter was a constant . But I decided to always engage them and give the alternate treatments which will take us in a different direction. Was it easy? No. But eventually it worked. And I found my voice. I lost a lot of money but I was content.
I speak of the scenario above so people outside the industry will appreciate the budgets Ghanaian music video directors have to work with. Also, so we would understand that some artistes believe that in doing something like what their fellow artiste who just had a hit song just did, they will also be “a hit, mehn”. The music video director is running a business and is merely providing a service for money. Is he at fault if he does his Job?
One of the most frustrating things is for you to be approached by an artiste you have admired from afar for a long time only for him /her to mention an outrageous budget,sometimes less than $1000 and ask for an award winning video. It is one of the most excruciating things you can ever face as a music video director. It is demeaning and insulting especially when they tell you that they are giving you a platform. What funds do we use to rent equipment? How do you pay a DOP? What money goes into Props etc but yet they expect an award winning music video? Every artiste expects a high quality video but do they have the budget for a high quality video?
I believe there are 2 very important factors to a great music video; a great idea and production value (which even determines how well the idea is executed). I have seen great ideas from several Ghanaian music video directors. The limitation here is how much money or resources they have to pull off these great ideas. When given the chance some amazing work can be churned out of this country.
I have worked with artistes who have challenged my intellect because creating visuals to their songs was an academic challenge. These artistes have a vision for their song and they embark on a journey with me (the music video director) to create visuals. I have always enjoyed that process because as an artist I am challenged to think and dig deep.
I am surprised that every music video now has a touch of wax print here and there. I remember suggesting very afrocentric ideas to artistes and they refused. they said NO! An outright NO!. Years later they are in love with it and have embraced it with their all. Pioneers like Gyo Gyimah have executed incredible Music videos based on our culture and these have always been show stoppers. Is Gyo Ghanaian? Yes! He merely took an idea that was authentically Ghanaian and created masterpieces. Are we saying because Black culture was showcased worldwide in Black Panther we now see the importance of our aesthetic and culture?
How lazy is a filmmaker who is struggling to cut through the myopic views of an artiste, work with a tiny budget and still create a video for a hit song? How does he pay an Art director to pay attention to detail whiles he supervises the narrative? How does he afford to hire a colorist to grade his videos?
A good music video is a collaborative effort between the Artiste and the Filmmaker. They both have to be on the same page and make a conscious effort to achieve something epic. This requires confidence in the Director and his eye, voice and visual expertise.
When a Ghanaian music video director decides to do something outside the box and requests for funds from the ‘record label’ or artiste they are seen as being arrogant and references are made to the fact that they have become money hungry. We forget that these are the same directors who shot for you when you had nothing and took your peanuts and cracked their brains to pull water out of stone. When you can afford it, the least you can do is critique their treatments and then proceed to give them the funds to realise a film that you can both take credit for. An artiste will pay more to a stylist than the director who is running the show . An artiste will pay more for drinks on set than the production’s budget for lighting.
In Ghana the artiste gets the credit for a good video. The director is always a back burner item because his “brand” is not big enough to pull in the fans or get the attention of sponsors. Awards are given to artistes so they can perform on the stages to please the sponsors. This has skewed the notion of what a good video is. We need to teach and educate the fans. This is the responsibility of the Directors, Production companies and collectives, Television channels, Bloggers, Radio stations and presenters and most importantly the organisations that award Music and music videos.
The Nigerian way is Nigerian. The Jamaican way is Jamaican. The South African way is South African. What is the Ghanaian way? What is our narrative? Can’t we for once galvanize behind our own and build a local entertainment economy so we can have enough clout as a collective to call shots? Can’t we desist from openly criticizing but rather building and support each other ?
This post does not exonerate the Directors completely. There are a lot of people who have no place calling themselves music video directors. Making music videos is an art, not a way to make money . The art comes first . Let’s stop taking money from artistes when we know we can’t deliver the quality they require. Learn, grow, make yourself better till you can deliver work of a certain quality then you can expect to get paid.
It will be beneficial for our industry if brands will begin to see the potential of music videos and use them as a way of selling products (product placements et al). Maybe that might inject the needed financial support that might take us to the next level. I hope when this is achieved the funds will be used for what it is meant for and not end up in the shopping kitty of our celebrated musicians.