Entertainment channels have a tendency of playing a song 900,000[i] times a day, just for ‘your viewing pleasure’ their shibboleth says. Therefore, directors often employ the most dinky concepts (girls, ass, toys, liquids) in an effort to gain your attention and aid musicians in brainwashing the viewer into haplessly ptyalising every tasteless lyric. So when international directors coerce western acts into filming their video in Africa, the concepts are ‘different’. Africa is often portrayed as the most backward place on earth, if not the universe, but something happens to music videos when international acts decide to shoot in the motherland. They seem to lose their virility and become; dare I say this – sober. So with these ignorant thoughts in mind, here is my list of the most interesting international acts who dared to say, ‘Lets shoot this shhh in Africa’ [#SouthAfrica].
MY TOP 5 MUSIC VIDEOS SHOT IN AFRICA
Since we are talking Africa lets start from the bottom and work our way up.
5. COLDPLAY – “Paradise”
Filmed in: South Africa Released in: 2011
Views on Youtube : 413,000,000+
Coldplay’s African connection is well publicized so it comes as no surprise that they come in at number 5. “Paradise” is the second single from the UK band’s fifth studio album, Mylo Xyloto. The song gave the band it’s second #1 single since 2008 and it was nominated for a Grammy. The music video for “Paradise” was directed by Mat Whitecross and it involves an elephant (Chris Martin in costume) escaping captivity from ‘Paradise Wildlife Park’ in London. The runaway elephant boards a plane and re-unites with its peers (other Coldplay band members in costume) on the African landscape – after unicycling past recognizable South African landmarks like the Nelson Mandela Bridge – before putting on a massive gig at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
Although the video is beautifully shot and has the highest number of views on this list, it falls short because it’s too safe. The visuals are borderline stereotypical with the dreaded ‘Acacia Tree’ and mascot gimmicks making a pivotal appearance. The shots are more documentary than inventive and that will not suffice for a restless audience. Coldplay is one of the biggest bands in the world and while I appreciate the storyline initiated by Martin 24hrs before the director landed in South Africa, the band could have done more than a safari take on Africa. Chris should have known better. Good effort though.
4. THE SCRIPT – “Superheroes”
Filmed in: South Africa Released in: 2014
Views on Youtube: 46,000,000 +
For their first single of their 2014 “No Sound without Silence” album, Irish rock act, The Script, thought it would be a good idea to film in one of the most notorious townships in South Africa, secretly. Alexandra township or Alex was once known as the ‘Dark City’ because it had no electricity or other services until 1982.[iii] The township is situated next door to the well serviced poshest suburb in Jozi, Sandton [other side of the tracks metaphors can easily be slotted here]. Alex was one of the first places where blacks could own land, it was the headquarters of the African National Congress and the center of anti-apartheid activism. Now this is all interesting stuff but we would still be bringing all these facts and dates if The Script’s “Superheroes” video had employed the usual twerk and blind treatment. This is simply because The Script [an international band] filmed in an African township [Alexandra] and that’s big news in any country – people are going to talk.
“Superheroes,” directed by Vaughan Arnell illustrates the sentiments of the song’s lyrics. The video tells the story of a destitute township man “who sifts through the dumps every day. But he’s different. He leaves home in a suit, to protect his daughter’s sense of dignity”[iv] and he goes off to sift through rubbish for a living. The man then returns from work and attends The Script’s township concert with his daughter on his shoulders. Powerful stuff. Symbology here. Rise above the ashes – [the whole Phoenix analogy] and a ‘present’ black father in the township [this is rare, right?] The father literally lifts his daughter out of poverty through his blood, sweat and tear filled physical labour. Power filled stuff. The Script’s storyline is a distinct tale of our ability to retain our humanity in an atrocious environment. So why am I supposedly hating on Superheroes? I am not. I feel these Irish lads put their best foot forward and even gave a free concert in the township but it felt ‘touristy.’ More like they came, the saw, they interacted but from the safety of their cars. In the end I have reservations because I feel they didn’t capitalize/utilize any of the history of Alexandra township and used too many cliché’s.
3. SOLANGE KNOWLES – “Losing you”
Filmed in: South Africa Released in: 2012
Views on Youtube: 14,500,000 +
I know what you are thinking, another video filmed in South Africa, like seriously! Yes you are right, another one, and in a township again I might add. But in Solange’s defense she did the ‘township thing’ 2 years before The Script secretly spawned their “Superheroes” effort. So in the spirit of fairness and camaraderie amongst artists, Solange gets the most brownie points for her pioneering spirit and for being one of the first international female acts to step across the pond and film in an African township.
Watch “Losing You”:
Directed by Melina Matsoukas, “Losing You” was shot in several locations in Langa township in Cape Town without a concept. Whatever it lacked in design it didn’t show. “Losing You” manages to do several things that the other two didn’t do well. Firstly it used the documentary style to its advantage and depicted a more authentic representation of township culture. It manages to give off a ‘rich’ vibe in an impoverished setting without celebrating poverty. Secondly, it feels natural and not contrived – there is something about this video that seems effortless. Solange is not a tourist, she blends in, in a very ‘chic’ manner but you still notice ‘her’ and her awkward moments. Thirdly, It invokes a spirit of pride, oneness and a super chilled vibe; very Capetonian. This spirit of oneness is extended to the stylish Congolese subculture – Le Sapeurs – who strike all kinds of poses in the video, but they are not distracting or other. The best thing about “Losing You” is that it embraces the events wholeheartedly and doesn’t focus on the ‘poor-African-fly-in-mouth’ stereotype, but rather it celebrates the uniqueness of the township in a refreshing manner. The video is like the song – upbeat about heartache. What I am trying say is that Losing You is poetic and try as I might it’s very difficult to unpack a poem and leave its mystery intact. What I can say fluidly is that it’s organic; everything works. This is a good example of music, lyrics and pictures ‘working’ together, well.
2. NICO AND VINZ – “Am I wrong”
Filmed in: Botswana and Zimbabwe Released in: 2013
Views on Youtube : 240,000,000 +
‘Am I wrong’ is the international pop breakthrough hit from Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz. Nico Sereba is of Norwegian-Ivorian origin and Vincent Dery is Norwegian-Ghanaian. The song fuses African rhythms with Hip-hop and Pop. It was a top 10 hit in the United States, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Canada ecetera ecetera. But that’s not what’s interesting.
Watch “Am I Wrong”:
Question: What makes this video a strong contender for the number one spot?
a) These brothers did what our previous artists failed to do – they set they sights beyond South African shores and dared to show the world a different and less frequently celebrated Africa. They deliberately put the video together “to present a positive side of Africa when the image of the continent is too often mired in negative news stories.”[v]
b) This video is an audiovisual protest from the lyrics, to the Afropop sound and right down to the video’s concept. Directed by Kavar Singh, the video is filmed entirely in in TWO African countries, Zimbabwe [known for being notoriously camera shy] and Botswana.
c) The storyline depicts two Africans walking around with a small TV set trying to use the media to locate each other. They cannot find a signal, but they are directed by word of mouth by the locals. Eventually, after meeting several people along the way and crossing a desert, they find each other. Finding no further use for the media the duo relinquishes their TV sets and share their stories before departing together to the vast unknown.
d) The video is a collaboration between four different African countries in a bold effort to make one product – Ghana, Ivory Coast, Botswana and Zimbabwe. It symbolizes a re-connection of the African Diasporic community with ‘the culture, their African roots and their heritage. “It symbolizes our journey from where we started,” Sereba says. “We’re singing about our identities.”[vi]
Nico and Vinz managed to turn their Afro-Norwegian single into a sensational work of art welcomed and celebrated as not only as their country’s biggest pop export but in a way, Africa’s as well [#claiming].
BONUS: JANET JACKSON – “Got till Its gone”
Filmed in: United States of America Released in: 1995
Views on Youtube: 710,000 +
I cannot say enough good things about this video even if I was being biased so I decided to employ a more biased approach. Firstly, what’s wrong with “Got till it’s Gone”? NOTHING! “Get outta here!” I can barely contain my delight, please give me a moment to compose myself. Ok, the video — directed by Mark Romanek — cites and celebrates South Africa’s 60-70s township culture. It portrays Jackson as a lounge singer and it won a Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video. The art direction is spot on from Janet’s simple make- up to the Drum Magazine references, passbooks, portrait photography, Lion Lager and disparaging ethnographic footage of a white woman touching a black woman’s dreadlocks. Now that’s just the visuals.
Watch “Got Till It’s Gone”:
What makes “Got till its gone” all- powerful is that it uses all the popular notions about township culture advantageously. It has ass thrusting, half naked bodies, alcohol, dashiki’s, afros and Alek Wek [an African original] But it doesn’t make a spectacle out of them. It feels like it was made by an ‘insider’ specifically for an African audience’s consumption but it was not made in Africa. It stands as a testament to how African culture can influence the world positively, radically and practically. This is my personal favourite music video associated with Africa and it pains me to say this again – it was NOT filmed in Africa. Anyway, the final image of the video sums up the feelings of all Africans in Africa or abroad – don’t let me spoil it, just watch it.
- MICHEAL JACKSON – “EARTH SONG”
Filmed in: Tanzania Released in: 1995
Views on Youtube: 67,000,000 +
Number one is the 2nd Jackson to appear on this list, the King of Pop’s epically titled “Earth Song.” This is Micheal’s socially conscious masterpiece that was filmed in the Amazon, Croatia, North America and Africa. Directed by Nick Brandt, the video received a Grammy nomination for best short form video. It boasts themes that are still relevant today such as; poverty, pollution, wanton consumption, illegal poaching and war. What makes this video number one is not the fancy effects or the beautiful cinematography or the fact that it was very expensive to make. It is number one because in the mid-nineties it was already directing our attention to the future. This list isn’t about getting recognition or saying look at us in Africa we are cool too. There are plenty of videos coming out of Africa that are packed to the brim with booty and shiny ass electronic slide-y touchy thingy cooly stuff.
Earth Song centres on the destruction and rebirth of the planet. In this depiction of the Earth, a tribe in Africa’s actions are equal to a tribe in the Amazon or a family in Croatia and the King of all things popular. Although I was not too fond of the stereotypical use of an African tribe being used to depict all Africans, I appreciate the themes of the piece as a whole. The message of the video employs the age-old notion of oneness or Ubuntu prevalent in African philosophy. It depicts equality of all races in value and actions. A secret known to all Africans and unknown to most Westerners / white folk is that all Africans dream of being depicted by other races as peers and equals. This is the message Africans take away from Dr. Kings speech in their subconscious and this is the message Western media cannot seem to hear clearly – equivalence. How the entire world acts affects the past, future and present.
To most people Earth Song is just one of those message songs. Yes it is! The song has a message, the video has a message – everybody knows that Earth song has a message. Nonetheless, the song is timeless, the images are timeless and the message is timeless. Micheal extends the spirit of Ubuntu beyond human interaction to our interaction with nature and animals. You know Micheal is deadly serious about this subject, the video goes on for nearly seven minutes. I’m not saying Jacko is number 1 because he was the most serious. Everyone on my list deserves their kudos for their standout use of the African context to promote their product effectively. What I’m saying is that Micheal used the most superior concept, the fanciest effects, the best directors and never missed a step. His video is future forward, relevant, unequaled and it’s a hit! So in conclusion, if international artists are going to be creating religiously repeated audiovisual adverts in Africa please make sure they are inspirational instead of conventional carbon copied fizzy noise. We got enough big-ass shiny loud things, we don’t need foreign ones flooding the market [;)].