The South African music video as a platform is currently within a golden age of churning great visual spectacles. In the last year alone, we’ve been subjected to an incredible amount of carefully crafted videos of cinematic quality and scope. If we look at the American industry, the boom of MTV in the 90’s brought upon a golden age for the music video. There was a great culture and anticipation for the next great visual spectacle in music and that culture gave birth to some of today’s most influential and successful directors.
Michael Bay was one of these directors who got his start directing music videos and commercials, see Meatloaf’s I Would Do Anything for Love and Aerosmith’s Falling in Love, before becoming a pioneer of the action blockbuster genre with movies like Bad Boys, Armageddon and Transformers. Spike Jonze was the brain behind a lot of Beastie Boys’ greatest music videos before becoming the cinematic powerhouse behind some of this decade’s most acclaimed films, see Her, The Wolf of Wall Street and Moneyball. David Fincher was the mastermind behind iconic masterpieces like Madonna’s Vogue and George Michael’s Freedom 90 before becoming the auteur behind some of the more ground-breaking pieces of cinema in the last two decades, see Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. There is an array of other examples of directors from MTV’s golden era who became great cinematic minds, so this begs the question: Are South Africa’s future giants of the cinema working the music video circuit?
The internet has drastically reduced the barrier to entry for a lot of cinematographers and directors. It has allowed extremely young and unknown directors the opportunity to make a name for themselves, grow and experiment on their artistic voice. Music videos have become a great space for experimentation in South Africa, the kind of experimentation which could be viewed as risky within other mediums like television. This means that a lot of the innovations, styles and visual voices which will eventually affect our film and televisions landscapes can be found in our music video industry. One of the strongest directorial voices currently in the music video game is Nkululeko Lebambo. The 28-year-old is behind some of Priddy Ugly, Frank Casino and Shane Eagle’s best visuals. His music videos are consistently laced with playful and inventive set ups. He has also shown a great love for using visual effects and even incorporating stunts, some of which can be seen in Priddy Ugly’s Tshela and 02Hero. With that in mind, it’s not that far of a stretch to see his visual style lending itself to a blockbuster cinematic experience given the right platform, especially innovating comedic or action-based films like Friday and Fast and The Furious within the African context.
Some of the voices are already crossing over in major ways like Ofentse Mwase. Ofentse Mwase’s OM Films are behind some of the most exquisite music videos like Fifi Cooper’s Take Me Back, A-Reece’s Feelings and Miss Pru’s Ameni. His work in music videos covers incredible range and stand as great statements of visual artistry. Ofentse’s growing work outside of music videos truthfully show how primed he is to be a compelling cinematic voice within his generation. One just needs to look at his award-winning work on short film The Hangman and drama series Tjovitjo as well as the incredibly popular comedy sketches OM FILMS produces on YouTube to see that his ascent is almost inevitable.
Nate Thomas has achieved great feats within his music videos. His work with Uprooted Media consistently has a cinematic appeal to it that’s undeniable. For example, Shekhinah’s Please Mr. has a Birdman-esque sequence that happens in one take, starting around 00:46 and ending at 02:07. Such meticulous and ambitious sequencing stretched within a high stakes scenario could make for captivating cinema not commonly seen within South African film. His other videos show a competency for high-end visuals which could also crossover well given a bigger platform.
Whilst Mwase, Lebambo and Thomas are quite established, there are also younger voices starting out who are making compelling statements of their potential. Vaima Kario (who we’ve previously covered) and Sphesihle Mdluli are both recent graduates who’ve come out of the gate swinging with concept music videos. Benny Afroe’s So Gone, by Mdluli, offers stark but stunning imagery with an intro and outro that show a love for thrillers/horrors. Kario shows a love for the psychedelic and moody with We$Gang’s Two Cup$, which could translate into some interesting and transformative genred cinema.
There are more extremely skilled and nuanced directors playing in this field that showcase that we are in a golden age of music videos. Rouge’s Arumtumtum and AKA’s Practice are videos which tease cinematic concepts and potential. Even acclaimed longform directors like Thabang Moleya, see Happiness is A Four Letter Word and Tebogo Malope, see For Love and Broken Bones, have also added to the culture with visually and thematically rich music videos like Cassper Nyovest’s Ksazobalit (Moleya) and Kwesta’s Spirit (Malope). But to answer the question posed in this article’s title, are South Africa’s future giants of cinema working the music video circuit? I believe the answer is yes, and with so many directors honing their skills how can one not be excited?