Clarence Peters has spent the last 25 years creating the blueprint for Nigerian music videos, defining cultural film making, and launching music brands. What is the true cost of his legendary run?
“Send your request to my Instagram dm, someone will respond to you.” Clarence Peters says. He’s no longer running his personal social media pages. Since his recent episode with the Nigerian police, where he was detained in connection to the tragic death of a popular dancer at his home, he’s been staying off the internet and its mob culture. The news cycle hasn’t been fair to him, he says. He also doesn’t want to talk about the situation, and when he refers to it, he tags it with the most fitting description: “that which I cannot talk about.”
It’s hard to fault the 36-year-old legendary filmmaker who’s sitting with both legs placed on the table, in this dark editing suit in his Lagos studio. He’s comfortable in a brown Jalabiya outfit, his ever-present locks, and surrounded by eight TV screens and monitors. Peters is rubbing his eyes, and changing positions in his beloved swivel chair. He’s spent the past days working on visuals and branding strategy for Burna Boy’s forthcoming album, and also has some new material for Fireboy’s campaign. A central screen shows a still cut from another video project under his care. It’s got Mr Eazi’s emPawa company logo at the bottom left.
These projects feel like heaven for Peters, who’s happy to be back behind a camera, filming again after the Covid-19 pandemic crippled production houses across the globe. In the 25 years since he first shot a Nigerian music video, nothing has been able to keep him out of action. In that time, his extensive body of visual production has become legacy content, creating the visual blueprint for Nigerian music. A shelf full of award trophies hugs a wall, a lone black sofa offers space for sleep, and a smiling employee pops in and out, checking in for when Peters will give up the workstation.
“Fireboy’s brand is interesting to work with,” Peters says about his week. “He’s a cool kid too. It’s hard to explain to people that I’d rather work with projects for brands, than just one off singles.”
Clarence Abiodun Peters has lived many lives as an actor, footballer, filmmaker, music video director, cinematographer and record label boss. A son of Sir Shina Peters, the popular Afro-Juju legend and Clarion Chukwura, the renowned actress, his exposure to the entertainment industry began early. At 9 years old, Peters was already on set, unofficially contributing to Nollywood productions involving his mother. By 13, he earned his first creative cheque, working on a local movie in Lagos.
On finishing his secondary school education, Peters joined production company Alpha Vision for three years, and then moved on formal training at City Varsity, a film and creative arts school in Cape Town, South Africa. He majored in Cinematography while at City, using his prior hands-on experience in the field to complete his studies in record time. “I technically was a year ahead of my class. Because there were a lot of things that they were trying to teach that I already knew. There were also a lot of things that they were teaching that I didn’t know,” he says.
Peters who has won endless local and international awards for his work with the camera, is known for his high-end music videos, TV commercials, documentaries. He is the CEO of CAPital Dreams Pictures, a motion picture production company, and the CEO/co-founder of CAPital Hill Music, a record label responsible for artists including Tha Suspect, iLLBliss, Chidinma, and more.
Peters is considered a hermit by music industry professionals. He’s rarely in the news for anything else other than his work. He mostly sleeps at his office, moves without a personal car, and has very limited contact with the public, outside of work. In person, he’s quirky and energetic. His passion runs beyond the creative industry, as he takes great pride in his understanding of world politics and economy, which he’s acquired via endless reading of texts, conversations with thinkers and a personal study into life as a Nigerian. He also laughs at his jokes, once turned a friend’s apartment upside down while helping me search for my misplaced car keys, and loves a good gift of Okpa.
We talk for hours about his life’s work redefining how Nigerians interact with music. He’s reclining in that chair where he performs all of his magic. I’m standing over him, seeking answers on how his legendary run in visual creativity was achieved and why he’s never been one to embrace his celebrity. As much as the respect comes in droves, he’s also received hate for his work, experienced cancel culture by a mob, and critiqued the hardest whenever viewers have found holes in his work. But he’s here. Still standing. Still leading, and creating for now and the future.
Instead of just working on a video, you say you’ll rather work on complete branding?
Yeah. My conversation with Burna from the very beginning was Burna needs more than just a video. It can’t be just a video. And that’s my thing. I feel that videos have been so flogged. I mean. there’s still a lot that we haven’t done but the Nigerian market consumes…I won’t say just fast. It consumes in a ferocious…
It has a huge appetite.
Again, it’s not even that. So you break the Nigerian market into two. The industry end of the market and the people themselves. The people themselves just want to be entertained really. And the Nigerian audience can be very forgiving. Not the industry o, the audience. And when I say the industry, I’m joining everybody on social media (laughs). But just the people that are like I go to a bar with my friend and I’m just watching the TV or someone played me a video. They are very understanding if you get the core, if you get the sentiment, if you get the feeling across. If they feel it? All the techie and those other things..naah. But does it say something to me? The rest of the industry, both people in the industry and social media people, there’s a lot of politics there. Everybody wants their voice to be heard. So those people unfortunately have become increasingly powerful in swaying perception. And that, I advocated for for a very long time. But be careful what you wish for. Because I advocated for critiques. For there to be real critics. But the thing is that there are no real critics. You can be a critic for anything else but if you’re going to critique something visually, then you’re going to know something about visual literacy at least to be able to seperate the director’s work or the production work from the artist’s music and themselves. And also being able to have…like if you write an essay on why this thing is bad, you can’t just come and say ‘I’m not just feeling it.’ Or based on what he did the last time or when this happened. Social commentary, that’s one. But if you’re going to critique, at least put some time into at least understanding the semiotics of what you’re criticising. If you’re going to criticise the photography then criticise the photography. Come from a place where that makes sense. Now, objectivity is subjective. I don’t expect objectivity but be intelligent when you’re criticising stuff and don’t just use social constructs for it. It’s disrespectful to the work that I do. I don’t mind the critique but that. But industry people, no… It’s political sha. So there’s all of that.
But you’re regarded as the S.I unit for…
I hate the word standard. I think the standard is what has brought us to where we are as people. I’m really scared for the future of my country.
Because of the young people that we have. From 16 to 48, which includes me. So I’m not excluding myself from it. I’m really scared of just how much we think we know, and how much we don’t. We have a lot of information, but we lack the knowledge of the core. There’s a saying; the person that knows why would always have one leg ahead of the person that knows how. So hypothetically speaking, I’ve worked with a lot of staffers in my company. Do I feel like there are people who as editors that I’ve worked with that are better than me? My knowledge of shortcuts on the key is very limited. I’m not a shortcut person. I’ve created my own shortcuts for myself that work for me. So in terms of the knowledge, of how to do that. But the ‘why.’ The ‘why’ is key. There’s the ‘why-short term smaller picture.’ and there’s the ‘why-bigger picture.’ It now depends on where you are.
The reason why Tony Enumelu is Tony Enumelu is not because he’s the best banker or businessman in the world at doing banking or whatever business he does. Or the reason Why Asiwaju Tinubu is Tinubu is not because, in terms of being able to rally around the politics, he is the best at it. But he knows the ‘why it’s being done.’ The why keeps you focused. The why can also take away a lot of pride. You know where you’re going to. This person can get you there faster, you work with this person. Oh the person is a bastard, the person is evil. But that person is going to get you here. So you work with him with one eye open knowing his nature. If you fuck around at any point and that person fucks you up, it’s really not that person’s fault, it’s yours. You’re the one who screwed up essentially. So we are a very emotional generation. We have been starved of a lot. So I’m not saying that we are the way we are completely because of us. We’ve been starved of a lot of things, deprived of a lot of things. Deprived of a voice, deprived of an identity. Young people suffer from identity issues, standard.
But we—not just Nigeria but across the continent—we’ve been deprived of that so much that when we get power, we abuse it. Typical analogy would be when I was a kid. When they do the eba, my grandmother would remove the meat. She’d keep the meat there, so that’s the prize. If you finish the eba, then I’d give you the meat. When a nigga grow old, shit, I packed all the meat, ponmo, everything. Nobody is holding me back from shit and I can afford it. I will eat this thing to the end. It’s that. But in doing that, we also wreck a lot of things. In doing that, I gained a lot of weight. I abused a lot of food, things that were held back from me. So we have all this power. And I hate using ‘standard’ because that’s what I believe the Western community has used to hold us for the longest time.
What is standard? When they say this is the standard. Standard is if I own a network or TV station, this is what I want you to give. This is our standard so we can broadcast. We take it as it’s the best. Now, they can say it’s the best for them. Does that necessarily mean it’s the best for us? You can’t really say that. And that’s the reason why I hate the word standard or professional. I’m having to use that term now because it’s really getting ugly, but I don’t like the term. Now, professional means that you spend a lot of time at what it is that you do. I understand the use of the word. I don’t have a problem with the word itself. I don’t like the way we have abused it, the way we have given it a variation to different meaning that have screwed up a lot of people from growing.
They’ve said I’m a standard and by giving me that tag ‘standard,’ it stopped me from growing in the past four years.
Because I can’t make mistakes. And if I can’t make mistakes, I can’t learn. The price for when I make a mistake and the price for when someone else makes a mistake is very different. I suffer a lot more if I make a mistake. So I’m scared of making mistakes. I used to relish making a mistake. I used to love to eat the bones of a mistake, so I can understand why that shouldn’t happen again. So I found myself in the past four years under a lot of pressure. I learnt a lot from that pressure because I did make some mistakes. So you see this as a standard. As long as you can do better than this person, or as good as this person, then you are in that space. And when I was put on that pedestal, I know, I did not like it at all. I didn’t think that I was ready to be put in that place.
Wasn’t it financially rewarding?
The thing I’d tell you about financially rewarding is this: The older generation may have fucked up a lot of things. But there are some core things that they told us. We threw away the baby with the bath water. They may not have gotten a lot of things right, but there are some core things that their fathers told their fathers and their fathers told their fathers, right? Have you had a mellowed down conversation with Wizkid? Just if he’s able to trust you enough to just talk and you just try to read between the lines. If you sat down with Burna to have a conversation with him, and even David. The three horsemen of the apocalypse (laughs). I have, with every one of them. I saw those kids grow. The way I look at them is different from the way you guys look at them and I’m going to bring this back to the financial. I looked at these kids. Wiz at some point was supposed to be my artist. So I know Ayo from then. I’m not going to say I know him, know him. But I know him enough just to be able to know where he’s coming from.
Two years ago, I sat down with Ayo to have a conversation and I felt my boy drained. I felt the weight on his shoulders. When we shot ‘FIA’, I had conversations with David. I felt it. And David is…when he’s feeling anyway and you have a conversation with him, even when he’s trying to mask it, you can almost feel it. Same thing with Burna. This is Burna before the Grammys. The money becomes the enemy. Not the money itself but the perception. What people have tagged with the money. When they say money isn’t everything, well money is a lot of things. But there’s a core, that for you to enjoy money, you have to unlock that core and be in zen mode with yourself to be able to enjoy that money. These kids forget that they’re young. They’re not 30 yet. And they pull all those weights. Yes, it’s the price. Remember that their predecessors that came anyway close to them were older by the time that they got here. So there was a bit more control for them.
I haven’t enjoyed whatever financial success that I have gotten because I have put everything back into the work. I think I bought a car once, and gave it to my mom. Hence why I don’t even go out. I don’t have a car. Would I like a car? Yes. I can’t afford a car. Now, every time I say that, everyone would be like ‘ah!’ I can’t afford a car because there’s so much I have to handle. Sometimes I feel like if I bought the car for myself, I’d feel extremely guilty. I would feel extremely guilty. I live at my work because if I had my own place, apart from the fact that I think that by a force of habit I’d be bored as shit, but I probably won’t balance myself out. My work would suffer. The way I’m working now would suffer. I need to be available 24/7. Is that healthy? No. I didn’t think it wasn’t healthy when I was younger. The older I’ve gotten, I’ve just realised it wasn’t. And if I was going to break it, I would have broken it earlier but I was so into this.
So financially, maybe some other directors have been able to find a way. I can’t tell you that it’s been a blessing. I’ve been able to pay my bills, I’m able to streamline my bills. I’m also able to take care of the people that I love, that mean something to me. I’m grateful for that. I’d always be grateful for that. And this is a personal thing. Now you have kids who are probably enjoying their money from doing what it is that they have done. They have chosen a different path and I’m happy for them. But see, that comes with a price. Let me give you an example. A lot of people think that I have issues with T. G Omori. And essentially, they try to pit us against each other. Key reason is T. G does quantity, and he’s what you’d like to say; a commercial music video director. So he bangs out the numbers and he has a certain style that works for commercial songs. Because in Nigeria, Nigerians don’t realise that we built a visual style that people might say is redundant and all that. But it’s a hybrid of different things, which when combined together, makes it very unique to everyone else.
So he has that. So they pit us against each other and I’ve been pit against a lot of people before. And if it wasn’t for experience, I would have reacted based on what people were saying. And it’s very hard not to feel hurt. You go in year-in-year-out, you’re an artist delivering hits that make people happy. Yes you made money from it. But year in, year out you shoot videos and you’re very specific about being able to shoot videos within..we count ourselves in quarters right? Q on Q to Q4. Now we call them goals. If it’s successful, how many goals do we have this year. So by this year we’re asking how many goals do you have? So that’s code for how much impact have you been able to have this year. And we do that year in, year out. And you expect that the audience, the people should be able to give you so slack at some point if you don’t get one right. Or if you get locked up in prison (laughs). You deserve that. You’ve worked hard enough for you to be able to earn it. But you find out that you don’t. So you start to ask yourself, it’s a loop. So you have to do it over and over and over again and then you get tired.
I think it was Wiz that said to me, “baba I don try, I don try.” Yes, he’s tried. What do they want from him again? Year in, year out for the past 10 years, the kid has given you hits. David too, the same thing, hits! Look at the Burna situation, everybody’s criticizing him. The ‘Jerusalema’ track drops and everyone is like ‘we don’t care, we are taking him like that.’ So as long as you are fed. When you’ve gone long into it, you start asking yourself ‘what the fuck did I get myself into?’ You start doing the math. If I was in another profession, I wouldn’t be used to a certain lifestyle. So you would be a place where this is what you know, this is what you do and you’d be able to cut your coat according to your size. And yes, it would come with its own problems, but would its own problems involve being locked up? (laughs). Who knows? Maybe yes, maybe no. But that’s the thing. And I can only speak for what I do.
The price of being successful, people knowing your name. I never wanted anyone to know my name. One of my guys, Banjo, he’s the one who edited the video with my name tag. I think it was 2007 or 2006 and I didn’t know. I just saw the video on TV, when he was making the copies, he just put Capital there. It was just ‘we need to put something there’. And it was a PR move. It was a business move at the time. So I understood it but I didn’t want to be known. Here’s the cycle. Once people start to know you, you start to get the perks of being known. So it starts off with the perks and your like ‘okay, maybe it’s not that bad. I need to be careful though.’ Then you now start getting used to being known, so your ego—there’s no way your ego is not going to be stroked at some point. People know you, but then artists and your colleagues are starting to say that you’re the best. And I did a lot to make sure that never got to my head because I don’t see myself as the best.
When I was in film school, I had a friend called Nina. At the time she was like eight, ten years older than me. She’s in Tanzania and she used to tell me: never let it get to your head. She always used to say it and I always hold on to that. Because if it gets to your head, that’s when you fail. That’s when they’ve got you. It’s not what it is. But I took it a bit too far. I never even acknowledged that I was good. I always used to tell myself that it was luck. It’s this year I started to realise that the years of experience have given a couple of skills that are not readily accessible to everyone else. That’s what I hold as being good at what I do. It’s not the techie, it’s not anything of that. It’s the foresight to be able to see why an artist is successful, what to do on set when they struggle. When those things, those things you can’t pay for, you can’t go to school for. Those are the things that I’m starting to realise myself that I have and I can say ‘oh yeah, I have something.’ Note, I have been doing this for about 24-25 years. Officially for music videos, this would be 16 years.
And I didn’t think that I had anything. Till now, I’m just starting to notice it. Maybe see all these things. So financially, it starts off being that, but the price. If you care about feeding your family, if you have responsibility. Because the thing is, as you grow and as you’re making money, even if you try to dumb down your lifestyle, there are bills that you have to pay that become like a standard. Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the requirement of what we need to be able to survive in this world with the technological age keeps increasing. You want to Facetime, you need an iPhone. You know the money of an iPhone. There are options. Fine, Whatsapp and all that, but you still need to buy a smartphone. You can’t have a small palasa Nokia and think that you can go through it. It’s not a luxury anymore, it’s a requirement.
And you start going around all these different things, and that now becomes necessary to sustain that. Not just for yourself but everyone around you. Your livelihood in a sense is now tied to the money. It’s a curse. This year, I had to accept this to myself: ‘I’m a service provider as long as I’m shooting music videos. A lot of music video directors keep forgetting that. They tell you that it’s your video, it’s not. Are you getting any money for it outside the initial payment? Do you have any royalties from it?You don’t have shit. So how is it yours? It’s there for your PR so you can keep doing the same thing for other people. But that’s it. You’re a slave to that process. If it was a film and you’re part executive producer, you can negotiate that right? And you’re respected for film and TV within a bigger space, because you can have certain conversations.
Music videos directors within the film world would always be seen as just that. Your respect would stay in the music industry, I mean among your peers. And I have kicked every single door because I’m a filmmaker. I consult for films, I shoot short films. I do these other things. But they still tag you as a music video director. Anything past three minutes, four minutes, they don’t think you can do anything better than that. Or they think that you’re collecting this money to collect three minutes, four minutes and that’s it. Because you have some sort of a budget and all that. But if it comes down to real men, where the real men are, you can’t compete. And that’s what I’ve been trying to flip in the past two years. And the only way we can flip is to move the success that we have from music videos and move it into the episodic space.
That’s what you’ve been working on?
That’s what I’ve been working on for longer, but effectively working on for the past two years. It’s where I can be able to take the new generation, the old generation of music directors and the experience that we’ve been able to create with these videos which is 100% us. And moving it into the dramatic space. I honestly think that that’s the future for everything. Because this is the thing; Music can’t go past where it is now. It can but the culture needs to be sold complete for everyone to move forward. We have the music, we need the pictures. Late 80s, early 90s black American cinema was extremely instrumental in making rap music what it is. Because a lot of the references for hip-hop videos were mostly from films. Mafia films, black American films. It was very important that they had their stories being told holistically. The soundtrack is there, the videos are there out together. We would only be selling 40% of the culture if the stories don’t match up with the music.
What is this culture? We generationally, have different interpretations of what the culture really is.
The culture is basically our way of life. The things we do, the things that represent us, the things that make us tick. How we live. And the elements that service that. That’s the culture. Within the media, do you think that we do that adequately?
Not at all.
That’s my problem. Poverty has done a number on us. Poverty has done so much to us. Because to tell the story, you need to look beyond the aspiration. You need to look downwards. Start again. Then you dig from there and go up. But we’re refusing to dig. For some reason, we believe that if we dig…this generation, because the generation before us dug. Nollywood was built on digging. True it didn’t end up the way it should have. But that’s the thing. Nollywood sold art. Maybe they got everything else wrong. Because art is the universal language. Art is international. International means that it is in a language where everybody can understand. That’s the international. It’s not a class. We use the word international as class. A Class of differentiation, because of our poverty mind state. But Nollywood is truly international. That generation of Nollywood because that generation captured* everyone else. Now, let’s look at the new Nolly. Call three household names, male or female in the new Nolly. Ok, who’s the last household name that you know?
What generation does Ramsey Noah come from?
The older generation.
That’s male. Give me one female.
The older generation.
Because our generation is only about aspiration not connectivity. And therein lies the issue that I have with what’s happening with both the music and the videos. I remember doing Flavour’s ‘Ada Ada’. I have to say that I’ve been blessed to work with some artists that in their prime understood the why. Flavour, Psquare. Those two, anytime I work with them, I learned about my country. I learned about the why. Jude Okoye is probably one of the most underrated creative minds in Nigeria. I say this categorically, not that somebody told me o. I’m there when this man works. Yes, he’s very imposing in his opinions and all that. And you’d be very pissed off when he’s telling you, because it’s like he’s shutting you down. But when the thing comes out, you’d see why it works and what he said is the reason why it worked.
Let me give you an example. Jude taught me how to edit an African dance video. When they are dancing hip-hop o. To edit it for the Nigerian audience or the African audience to be able to appreciate and understand it. I would always edit hip-hop style for the cut, so that it cuts on the beat and all that. Jude said calm the fuck down. That leg landed bad. The next move is key. Let them soak the shot in. So his approach to it is like when you’re editing fight scenes. Because fight scenes are dance scenes. But when you have a Jet Li or Bruce Lee in a scene and they are doing the stunts—or a Jackie Chan—you make the shot last so we can see that it’s a Jackie Chan that’s doing it. Don’t do all this cut cut. Let it breathe. So I learnt that from him.
Flavour says ‘this is my audience.’ So Flavour knew who his audience was, and this is what they want to see. We’d dig it from the root. I used to think it was just a Nigerian audience until when I did ‘Ada Ada’. It was when I realised just how many people across the diaspora, the effect that we have within this continent. Do you know that for a fact, even if five of the strongest countries in Africa rose their GDP per capital up and balanced their countries. The continent would still be seen as failing until Nigeria—which has the highest amount of population that’s supposed to be the giant of Africa—gets it shit together. We are holding the damn freaking continent back. We don’t realise the responsibility that we have as a country. And yet, there are a lot of problems. And young people aren’t asking the bigger question. We are looking at what’s happening in America before we move. For them to start a protest, for them to do something before we deal with our own problems.
We have big issues here, a lot of them which I can’t really talk about now, but we have issues. And everybody would be like ‘our government’. Yes granted our government has problems. But we as people, it’s us. The people that are government officials are they not Nigerians? When was the last time you heard Nigerians use the word community or communion? My community. We lost that a long time ago. This generation doesn’t even know what that means. I mean, we know the word but what that really means, to work as a community. We have so much anger, so much desperation pent up inside. That’s what they are going to keep using against us, because for us to deal with that, we need to look beyond it first to solve the problem. If some government issue happened now and the government hired you to say ‘we want to dead this issue online.’ You would just spark up another issue that is not as serious, throw a celebrity around it and everybody will just move from this issue.
As young people in Nigeria, we’re predictable. And I’m scared that they are probably starting to notice the pattern and the fact that we are predictable. Our voice is supposed to be in line right? They are using our vices against us. Or it’s possible to use our voices against us because we are not using our voice right. With the law, how many of us really know what the law says? And I’m guilty of that. It took me to have to go through a couple of things to start to understand the law. And that’s when you know that the law is working or the law is not working. So when you don’t know the law and you go. And you’re giving your opinions and you’re coming. When you get to that place and they start to quote the law for you, then you realise you don’t know the law. You just sound ignorant. So that’s what I mean. We think that we’re intelligent because of all the information that we have at our disposal. But how many of us really know the real information?
It’s good we have really intelligent lawyers, we have all these people. It’s one thing for them to know the law, but we also need to be able to arm ourselves with the law. Whether the law is being upheld or not is still a weapon that we need to have. I think you should have a strong conversation with Seun Kuti. Anytime I speak to Seun I feel dumb (Laughs). Seun has so much knowledge that he’s gone out of his way to educate himself and say ‘I want you to know these things.’ When he was telling me about the constitution, he saw the constitution in traffic. He bought it and read the constitution. How many of us have read the constitution? We want to have informed conversations and we haven’t read the constitution. I’m a filmmaker and my responsibility to my society is to be able to reflect—just as it’s yours—the realities of what’s going on. Whether through fiction or adaptations. Either way, through my eyes. But how can I do that when I don’t know shit? When I can’t see?
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Come election day, a lot of people come online and talk about this is happening in Nigeria, that’s happening in Nigeria. So I was shooting a video; ‘Important,’ for 2face. We travelled by road and I love road trips. I love road trips because I get to see my country. Let me go by road. I literally see the real Nigerians at the place that we stop by. And when we were going to shoot, I think we stopped by Ekiti state and the women and the kids and some of the men there were extremely happy about N5,000. When I say happy, if I was a politician they would vote for me. So how do you speak for Nigeria when you don’t know those people? The crazy thing is, I was there for two days. I was the happiest. I’m always happy when we leave Lagos. First off, the scenery is amazing. The weather is beautiful. The people are simple and I know that there are a lot of complexities with them too. It’s not simple in a bad way.
And because I also grew up in an environment like that. I grew up in Ibadan, Ilesha, a lot of different places. So it’s not like I’m a tourist, I’m just being reminded that I used to live here. It takes me back to when I used to live in those places. That was a different time. But when you go online, to young people who have a power to influence, and you see the way they talk. Recently I had a fight with someone close to me about me not doing anything. I have all these things and…at least people are doing something. And that really got to me. It got to me because I can understand how that person could be right. Is it that I don’t want to do anything or is it that I’m not doing anything? No. The only thing I can do, that I know that I can do, that can bring up the conversations, is being able to inspire an understanding within my people. To be able to show them that this is possible. For them to be able to see their stories well articulated.
It hurt me because I’m like ‘yeah, you’re not doing anything.’ And I’m like ‘shit, because I don’t have all my tools yet.’ Okay. but everyone is saying all this left-right, and government this, government that. For some reason, everyone feels if we keep talking about it, it will change something. We highlight it. But you see, perhaps if we talk about it constantly enough, it will. But here’s the thing. We talk about it for a week. Two weeks. Then something else comes and we move there.
Americans have been protesting for weeks.
On that one issue! And if you notice, it’s not just on social media. Every single facet of it. We don’t have representation and no one is going to give it to us. We have to take it. Music has become a beacon for hope. For young people to believe that we can do this. There’s so many other things. It’s one candle amongst a thousand candles. There are so many candles that we could put on. I love my country for a lot of reasons, but this is one of the key things.
I was speaking at a summit in Rwanda in January, and I said we are having a summit about Africa and everybody is going on about different things. We need aid for this and that. I can only speak for the country that I know of, Nigeria. I know a lot of African countries, but I don’t live there. That’s not my country. I can speak for who I know. Nigerians may ask you ‘give us, give us.’ If you don’t give Nigerians, and you tell them that’s where the well is, that’s where the water is, and tell them this is how you can get there. Nigerians will enter that transportation and go there. They would figure out a way to get to it. Just point us to the direction of where it is. We wouldn’t wait for grants, we would move by ourselves. And I think that is a strength that we have.
But they have not created enough water sources for us to go to. We don’t have enough. So people would obviously rebel. Poverty will go around everywhere. My generation and the generation after me that we are all in the same generation. So let’s say we are looking at generation in fifty years. My generation, we need to figure out new ways of doing things. It’s fine to take references from other places, but we need to figure out things that work for us. We need to have—even if it’s just the presence of being unified—we need to take it issue by issue. We can’t fight everything at the same time. Because there are some problems. You’re fighting, but if you fought the bigger problem and won, it cascades down. If you begin to fight the issue of jobs for instance. If you fight for infrastructure you’d fail because the bureaucracy of it is long. Fight for the space to be a lot more conducive by law for us to be able to do business. Fight for an enabling environment. Then we would create the electricity. I mean, have we not been doing the generator and all that?
Who are our advocates when it comes to what we need legally in the senate. And I’m sure that they are there. Do we know them? Those are supposed to be our number one rockstars. Our artists and everybody else are supposed to be behind these men and women. The people who are making sure that certain laws don’t get passed because it doesn’t benefit this generation. Certain laws get passed because we need it. Who are our representatives? Who are the people that can say young people are not working, if this isn’t done, then we shut down. I don’t have that training. I may be informed about it, but I won’t be able to sit down and talk to them. But you know the thing that they say in Nigeria, trust is a problem. We need you sir and ma to have given us the results, that’s when we believe that you are the one that can deal with this problem. You need to be the people that we can speak to as young people. They say youth leader here, youth leader there. We need faces because there are many of them all spread across. But people who can actually give us results.
I hate that when we go, we are begging the government to do this for us. Let me even first talk about my industry. Why should the government do it for you? Why? What have you brought to the country? And by this, let’s first start with money. Oh there’s a lot of money, the industry is making a lot of money. But is it accounted for? Can we account for the money? Can we say that we have our numbers and have our own fact checks to say that this is how much money we’ve made? We’re waiting for the international community to say this is how much we are making before anybody else will be able to listen. And we have people who are doing that here. But again, they are not the ones that people are talking about. I like to call them the guardians. They are not the one the people are talking about.
Okay fine, say we are making this money. They’ve estimated what the potential of the industry is. We need to have certain infrastructures in place for us to go forward. If we don’t do that infrastructure ourselves, business people are not going to listen to you. So let’s say you need something that’s ten acres. And you found one acre to do one that’s already working, that’s where you start the conversation from: ‘This is what I’ve been able to do with one acre, and I’ve been able to achieve this.’ So you can do the maths yourself and see I have something of this size. We just sit down.
And we didn’t used to be that way. Based on what people are saying, this industry wouldn’t exist. I can tell you categorically because I was there from the beginning. This new industry that we have, that is technically from 97/98 all the way down. If we waited for Nigerians to start saying we are ready, we wouldn’t have done anything. At the time, I don’t know if you remember, the sentiment was that we were wack and everybody was listening to foreign music. And if we didn’t start off by delivering that, then we are wack. ‘We are wack? don’t worry, we would market our wackness. We would get better.’ And since 98 till now, about 20 years, every year there’s been something that’s been better. There’s been regression too–mostly mindset–but in terms of the quality of the work, there has been improvement on a yearly basis. And in 20 years, we’re having international conversations.
Why did you go into the film and music industry?
I always say I’m a cheat. With me, there’s that cheat going on there. My father is a musician and my mother is an actress, and I grew in that environment. I grew up with people they call legends today, who are my uncles and my aunties. They are the ones I grew up with. They formulated the basis of my education within art. I had this juvenile thing when I was younger that I didn’t want to be in my father or mother’s shadows. I wanted to play soccer. And when it comes to that, I think I was also extremely lucky at the time, because I had a mother that was so supportive of anything that I wanted to do. ‘Anything you want to do just let me know and I’d support you.’ When I was younger, I wanted to be an engineer and she started getting me things, for me to be an engineer and then I changed my mind. I was 7, 8, 9 at the time and I said I wanted to play soccer. Then she took me to meet (Segun) Odegbami and I joined the Pepsi Football Academy, and I was trying to do that. But within all this I was still in creative work. Because I’m around it, my mum’s there, we read scripts together. I was also on set, but this is just on a part time basis. But if you woke me up at any given point in time, I could literally start breaking up characterizations to you and all that. I could tell you defiition of a screen play at the time when young peple didn’t know what the fuck screenplay was. Why cinematography? I remember I was in school and I said I wanted to become a conematographer and my teacher said ‘what the fuck am I talking about?’ It just didn’t make any sense to them. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a cinematographer. I just thought it’s one big grammar that made me sound like I want to be an engineer. At the time I just wanted to direct and maybe write at the time. But cinematography just sounded…
It sounded heavy?
Yeah. One day I was playing on the field and Suspect was on the field, and we were on two opposing sides even in the hood. He was in the hood, I was halfway in the hood and the rch side in Allen. So he stayed in Oritse. I also stayed in Oritse but on the upper part of Oritse. So we were playing and anybody that knows Suspect knows that Suspect’s shot used to injure people. Suspect’s shot was demonic. Nigga fired shot on my balls, I was out man. Lights out. When I opened my eyes like this, he said ‘don’t move.’ I couldn’t feel my balls. I think the balls ran up under or something. I said ‘oh shit what is the meaning of all this nonsense? If I can count more than five people on this pitch who are better than me, I will leave this pitch.’ Five right? I counted eight. I stopped counting at eight. So I got up, dropped my shin guard, dropped my boots, dropped my socks and I went home and told my mom I want to do film and music. I saw the look on her face. She said ‘thank God you’ve finally come to your senses.’ And then she said ‘you can only do one, you need to be focused. You can’t do both.’
I thought, ‘I could cheat this now, it’s possible.’ I want to do film because if I do film, I would learn about sound. She said okay, and then she started working on me going to film school. I mean, prepping for that was a no-brainer because I was already doing it. At the time, we had some issues. I remember she said, ‘now you’ve finished your secondary school. You need to work. You can’t just be at home, you’re becoming a nuisance.’ I didn’t even want to be at home either. She asked me to go to Zeb Ejiro in Surulere. And I drove, got to Ojuelegba and turned back. I told her I didn’t see him because I knew the other option was going to be to go to Tajudeen Adepetu. She said that ‘okay we’re going to go and see TJ.’
Were these her friends?
These were colleagues and people that she worked with. Before then I naturally picked going to TJs because I had worked with TJ before. Family Circle the movie, I was an actor on that and I really enjoyed the vibe. But apart from that, my school was inside Ogba and his office was in Adeyeri in Ifako. So I’d walk from my school after school to his place and just hang out with TJ. So I and TJ as a kid already had some relationship. Because I’d be there and sometimes there’d be nobody around, just me and him just sitting down. And he’s just put a cigarette in his mouth and start asking me how school is, and I should gist him about school and all that. It was really cool to just have someone like that just to be able to talk and just gist. And I was always welcome. So we went to TJ’s place. TJ said ‘fine,’ and I was like ‘thank God.’ And the first job TJ gave me was as a continuity person. I was really young. Again, before that I had been doing music videos for documentaries with my mum. She had an NGO that had a lot of young people and I’d been doing stage. In and out stage, so there was all that. I pretty much started doing film because this is what I’m good at. I mean there are other things that I think that I would like to do, but I’m not as good in those things as I believed. It doesn’t come naturally to me.
What did you learn at SoundCity that helped you?
It wasn’t Soundcity at the time. Soundcity was a 30 minutes show. And it was the second 30-minute show, because Body & Soul as a show is older than Soundcity. I learnt more about the ‘why’ and the ‘core’ from that entire ecosystem than I learnt in film school. I learnt more about being a Nigerian filmmaker which I’m very proud of, to say that I am a Nigerian film maker. I don’t want to say I’m an American filmmaker or anything else. I am a Nigerian filmmaker. And I wouldn’t have any problem directing and staying in Nigeria. That’s a funny story. I’d come back to that.
So I learnt a lot from TJ. I learnt a lot. Probably my biggest influence as a filmmaker would be a producer, director, and writer called Oliver Aleogena. It wasn’t necessarily about the tech or anything like that. It’s about the why. Why do you compose a shot like this? Outside of ‘oh, it is the technically accurate thing to do,’ this is the reason why. And learning the process with Oliver wasn’t like oh, this is the teacher teaching you. It was back and forth. It was an open conversation that we’d have and he would always admit, when he would say ‘oh, you’ve taught me this. Oh, that would be really cool, we should try it out.’ I assistant-directed with Oliver. I was 19 at the time, and we would run through scenes together. But just how much he knew fascinates me till today. I dare to say I haven’t seen a more creative mind that is very aware of his environment than Oliver. And I have had conversations with a lot of people but none like Oliver.
I was very lucky to have that. Having Oliver and having TJ, and the back and forth that they had and them being gracious enough to include me in that back and forth and where my opinions and thought process mattered. That was valuable. And I underestimated it a lot until I had young people with me, who accused me of not including them in decisions. They didn’t include me in all the decisions. But they included me in some. And when I was accused of that, it made me feel really bad and I thought about it a lot. And I just realised that the feeling of being able to know when a child stops being a child and becomes a man. You need experience to be able to know that. Parenting isn’t easy and they are not my kids. And I made certain mistakes and they also made mistakes. I reacted a lot to a lot of things that they were doing, by just being in a place of uncertainty caused by all this hullabaloo of what’s at stake and what’s not at stake. Where your next meal is going to come from, all that jazz. I learnt a lot from them.
I also learnt about photography from people like Wasiu Onitilo. But mostly those two people gave me a lot of education that when I got to film school, I technically was a year ahead of my class. Because there were a lot of things that they were trying to teach that I already knew. There were also a lot of things that they were teaching that I didn’t know. I focused a lot on the things that I didn’t know. I wanted to go there to direct, I got to school and realised in the first week that no one can teach me how to direct. But I can be taught how to be a DP, cinematography. I had some cinematography ideas but I was scared of the camera. Back in the day, when you’re on set and you’re not in the technical department, you’re scared of the camera. You don’t go close to it before you go and press spoil. As a matter of fact, I dont go one feet close to the camera just in case anybody hits the tripod and something happens and they say it’s my fault. I was brought up to be scared of the camera. When I got to school, I was like fuck it, I’m going to have to overcome this. So I went straight head and said I was going to focus on cinematography.
But the most valuable lesson that I learnt from school was actually two things; Visual literacy and film appreciation, which is film history. It made me understand just what history really means, not just as a filmmaker but as a human being. Being able to understand your history. I was tutored in world cinema so my influences range. That is why I’m not ecstatic about music videos, because in music videos I think I only give about 30% of myself. I don’t get the opportunity to actually give. Till now, I haven’t really been able to put myself in. If you ask me, do you like what you shot?’ I’d tell you I don’t and people don’t understand that. People don’t understand that I don’t like anything I shot and it’s not in my hands. The artist, I didn’t choose the artist. I didn’t choose the song. I’m not in full control of what it is that I’m doing. I’m a service provider, not the creator. So when you say a music video director is a creative, yes he’s creative within a box.
You can’t think out of the box unless your client is thinking out of the box. First off, the music has to allow you to think out of the box. Second, the brand has to allow you to think out of the box. As a brand, not even the business. Just the way a brand looks and what the brand represents has to allow you to think outside the box. Then the client has to be able to take the risk to trust you enough. And take the risk enough for you to be able to think out of the box for them. For instance, I shot the video for 2face ‘Spiritual Healing,’ and that was them allowing me to think out of the box. I remember we spent six months on just the animation of that video and all that. The style, the story in itself was supposed to be deep, across worlds. The Romeo and Juliet intergalactic storytelling yada yada. And the video came out and the general comment was that Nigerians didn’t get it.
First, they said that this style of animation is fake. It was supposed to be stop-motion. It’s a particular type of animation. But as far as they are concerned, can’t you see Transformers? So then I understand. Sometimes when you think out of the box, it’s premature for the audience. Know your audience. So you’re dealing with artists who don’t even know their audience. How am I dealing with artists who don’t know their audience? I’m supposed to know their audience for them. A video comes out and it’s not successful and it’s my fault. It may not be any other director’s fault, my fault. How about that the song isn’t that strong? How about your brand isn’t that strong? How about you don’t know what it is that you’re supposed to do? I learnt a lot from Oliver and TJ, a lot. It’s invaluable. I can’t even put it in words.
When you finally got into the music industry and started releasing music as a music company, what was different then?
The funny story is, when I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker, me and Suspect found out that we went to the same church. Not the same parish. We both went to Redeemed. I think he was in Potter’s House, I was in King’s Court. But he was in an acapella group. One day, I was coming from school and I used to walk from Ogba to Allen. I passed his house and I saw him outside, just hitting on a bench. And I sat down with Suspect—’cause I know as a vocalist he’s amazing—but he was just hitting the bench and he was singing. I said ‘can you play the keyboard? Can you sequence?’ He said ‘no, but he’s sure that he can learn.’ Then we just had a conversation. The next day, I had a school son who had a keyboard and I told him to give me his keyboard. It was a Friday. So I went to Suspect’s house. And I was walking, I carried the keyboard and I said: ‘you know what? Let me keep this keyboard here. I’d come back on Monday to collect it.’