It’s easy to say Afrobeat - but that’s kind of a generic blanket term. Afropop, Afroswing – they all fall under Afrobeat.
UK-born director and photographer Meji Alabi is the son of Nigerian parents, a citizen of the world and African through and through. In his work as a music director he finds himself at the centre of a global boom in Afrobeat – music that has been around for a while but is travelling around the world thanks to exciting young talent taking control of their music and image in a way that was previously impossible.
The origin of Afrobeat can be directly traced back to the 1960s, when multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti combined musical influences from his native Nigeria with western genres, creating an ambitious sound that has been imitated, embellished and evolved ever since. But the founding father of Afrobeat could never have predicted the subsequent reach and power of his genre. Today’s artists are able to take the international flavour of Afrobeat to a global audience, with up-and-coming DJs, singers and producers catching the attention of major labels (Universal, Warner and Sony have all opened offices in Nigeria over the last couple of years) through their carefully controlled and curated online presences. “The music industry is very competitive,” explains Meji. “Music is one of the ways people ‘make it’ in Africa, with Lagos being the hotspot in general. So many artists are releasing and signing huge deals, from Wizkid to Davido to Tiwa Savage and Burna Boy. It’s such an exciting time.”
With over 100 artists releasing new tracks every week, the challenge lies in standing out – creating slick content and pushing it hard online. As a result, the exciting new musical talent in Nigeria is working side-by-side with young videographers, photographers and graphic designers in a way that is reminiscent of the 1970s when the DIY ethic of punk and hip hop influenced generations, changing art and music forever. “Image is everything,” says Meji. “Being aspirational is important. So, artist[s] have to stay pumping out fresh imagery – be it photos for Instagram or video content on the regular.”
The beat is infectious and taking over the world
23-year-old Oluwafemi Taofeeq (who calls himself ‘Femi Success’) is one of a new breed of young creatives who are responsible for the look that accompanies the music. Armed with just a smartphone, he and a schoolfriend learnt the basics of phone videography by watching over 100 YouTube videos on shooting, lighting and more. “I grew from learning to shoot with what I had with me, and that has really influenced my style, I am now more of a ‘Do It Yourself’ advocate. I can always find a way to reproduce an expensive set design or lighting cheaply.” To take his skills to the next level, Femi joined a Canon ‘Miraisha’ workshop at the PEFTI Film Academy in Lagos, where he and twenty others – artists, dancers and crew – filmed a music video for KFabbz under the mentorship of Meji Alabi,. ‘Streets of Lagos’ is a “renewed hope and motivation for everyone out there striving to survive and live good life”, so Meji and his student team were responsible for rising to the challenge of creating a video that not only brings this feeling to life, but present KFabbz as an artist at the top of his game. As Femi explains, “Personal branding is everything here in Lagos. People [in Lagos] onlylisten to an artist that appears ‘well-packaged’.”
Over the course of eight hours and working in seriously hot conditions, the team covered everything from pre to post-production, starting with location scouting, listening to KFabbz ‘Streets of Lagos’ for inspiration, then determining what could be done with the resources available. The overall video was created from several scenes stitched together with footage created by focused groups armed with a Canon 5D MK IV or III. For Femi, it was an opportunity to move up a level and start using kit that could expand his repertoire. Using a jib crane was a first and “the most difficult. We had limited space to work with and had to block the scene to not show all the extra things happening in the environment, which we didn’t need in the shot.”
Producing a video in this way meant the team had to work spontaneously, creatively and without wasting a moment. As a result, they’ve produced a piece of work that KFabbz loves and is already being shared widely online but has also given them a taste of the world of professional videography, with an approach that is distinctly Afrobeat – fast, competitive, collaborative and highly creative. For Femi, working with Meji has been life-changing. He has since started his own film company and has ambitions to grow his name steadily in Nigeria. Then Africa. Then the world. “I am still very young,” he says. “And I believe I have enough time to prove myself.”