Director C… Lights, Cameras, Legacy
Across a myriad sectors in Africa’s creative economy, music video directing remains one of the most respected genres. Sadly, its sharp gender disparities, especially within the hallowed halls of Afrobeats, are a bitter complement for this sweet life of lights, cameras and action-calls. “You have to remind everyone that you’re the director,” she chuckles, adjusting her gait to relax her elbows. And while she notes that working with male-laden crews could be tedious, because it’s “hard to get their attention,” Cindy Ihua-Maduenyi, professionally known as Director C, is actively making a mark within the Nigerian music scene, besting the boldest of odds that come with being a female music video director on the rise. Known for her prolific storytelling, especially via masterful art direction, character building, rich lighting techniques and great choice of sets, Director C continues to stamp her legacy within the annals of Afrobeats, one video at a time.
After ditching a life in courtrooms for one on film sets, Director C built a sturdy portfolio by making short visualizers and official music videos for her Hip Hop maverick brother – whom she also talent-manages, Psycho YP. As an executive member of the Apex Village music collective and soon-to-be-record label, Director C has also extended her creative auteurship to other team players including Laime (pronounced Lah-ee-meh), Azanti, Uloko, as well as other solo artistes and corporate brands.
Her unusual work ethic, dedication to detail, as well as beautiful delivery, as reflected in her latest opus, the official music video for Psycho YP’s “This Country”, has spotlighted her as another unsung hero with a future full of possibilities. In a sit-down with Guardian Music, she opens up on bootstrapping and riveting career within a male-dominated scene, finding her forté in cinematic storytelling, talent-managing her brother and suspending a law career, as well as her vision to inspire other aspiring young women to pick up more technical careers within Africa’s creative economy.
Why are you called Director C?
MY name is Cindy. My first name starts with C.
How did you delve into this music video directing?
So, I started writing and acting in Uni.
University of Leicester. I tapped into my creative side there.
How did that happen?
I met one artiste and I followed him a lot to the studio with his manager. We were a team and I was doing a lot. I was working with the artiste. I was acting, I was writing and then just like had this business partner I went to secondary school with. And she was schooling in another city and I would write stuff and send to her, and then she would edit and send back. You know that kinda thing! So, we were like let’s shoot something. So, she had equipment in her school. Her course was film studies and we rented some equipment and started shooting stuff. We shot mostly short films, mini web series, campus mini web series and those sorts of things. So, I’d write and then we develop it and then shoot. So, we did like one short film, a couple web series and I finished school. I studied law. I’m a lawyer. So, when I came out from law school, my brother was doing music. I’m like, ‘You need someone to help put your affairs in order.’ I sounded crazy at the time. Now I’m thinking about it. You actually need someone to have your affairs in order, as an artiste. I thought I was doing something serious and then I went into this whole world of management and putting people’s affairs in order in the music industry, but I am still trying to keep my creative side.
So, is that why you shoot videos – to hang on to your creative side?
That’s why I shoot videos. I try because I can. I want to do films. I want to do major movies, but they’re very budget intensive. Imagine meeting an artiste that also needs a music video and you’re like “I think I can do something here” – regardless of the budget? Yeah, that is how I got into it.
So, how did you garner your directorial skill?
It takes a lot of time, effort, and late nights. Sometimes, I just push myself by 1:00AM. I’m likely to loop a song and create a visual moodboard from it. I also like having conversations with creatives; creative directors, and they show you stuff. They send you like Pinterest links, TikTok videos, IG stuff and you’re like ‘Wow! This is dope.’ Yeah I like to challenge myself. I stay up. I stay up a lot at night to practice. That’s how I got here.
So, what was your first most challenging video?
I would say my first challenging video was Psycho YP’s Oga. That was his first video. To be honest, it was like we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were confused about what to even shoot. So, I created a document. This was my first treatment. One of my first treatments. I did a treatment once for Korede Bello and I sent it to Don Jazzy. I was still a small girl then so no one answered me like they did. They were like ‘next time’. But yeah, that was my first one. It took Psycho YP’s Oga video to realize the stress that comes with shooting music videos. Like getting the equipment from Lagos to Abuja at the time, because you wouldn’t have those kinds of equipment in Abuja; getting a location; extras;!paying for styling, and so on. It was like organized to the letter, but the end result was just like some upcoming video.
What is your signature style?
Films. You’re gonna find something that looks like a movie in my videos. Like I know videos are films but like you’re going to find something in my videos that seems very cinematic even if it’s one shot. Even if it’s like just a performance or something. You’re going to find something cinematic in my videos. From the way we establish the shots to YP walking through the street of the slums in the video for Stronger, there’s always something cinematic in my videos.
What is the most interesting music video you’ve shot?
Psycho YP’s Silent Mode.
What’s the story behind that?
We had just lost our dad. We went for the burial. But before we went for the burial, YP and I agreed to have one last burst of creativity before we went for this burial and we were in Lagos. So, he gave me a day and I came up with a treatment. I started calling my crew together, but I was very different about the approach because of the location; it had to be an all night shoot because we had like six sets. It was shot somewhere on the mainland, and you don’t want to come back from the mainland in the middle of the night; you want to come back in the morning. So, I was like it’s going to be an all nighter and he was like ‘No Yawa’. So, we all got to the set at midnight. That was the call time. We had some earlier shots at Marina, around CMS. We shot those broad street buildings. So, we shot there from about 5 till 9PM, then we went to rest and got to the mainland and filmed till 6 AM.
What’s the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to you on the set?
Someone almost died on the set. We shot a short film in Abuja’s Utako motor park. I was trying to reenact the Nyanya bomb blast and in those scenes, we had smoke machines and even people coated in blood, appearing like they were dying. And someone had thought we were not only shooting a film about boko haram but we were actually the insurgents themselves. Some mad man ran out with a cutlass and tried to cut off someone. Like he ran into the set.
Did you record that too?
No we didn’t. Crazy things happen on set. We almost drowned two weeks ago going to Tarkwa Bay for a shoot. Coming back, one boat almost capsized and then, we almost lost the artiste we were to shoot for.
You are navigating an industry that is less populated by women. How are you finding the dynamics?
It’s fun, because you actually find more women in it. You go into it and you’re like there’s more girls in this. The production managers are women, the stylists are women, make-up artiste are women, then once in a while you see a female director and you’re like okay there’s more girls in this…you know. So, you feel cool. I like the support on set from maybe you get extras. A lot of female extras tend to like seeing a female director so they want to get your number or they just like what you’re doing. Say thank you, they say goodnight and you’re like ‘Oh, nice one.’ I know a lot of male directors don’t get that.
So it’s more fulfilling for you?
Yeah! It’s really nice. It’s very fulfilling. But you work with mostly male crews, because it’s mostly men that can lift heavy stuff on set. It’s hard getting their attention or getting anyone to listen to the director, you know. You have to remind everyone I’m the director. So most times, you have to work with people knowing that they probably are not used to you either. So, keep working with the same set of people, switching it up, building your team dynamic and overtime you come to build. They communicate with me. And I am learning more about communication and directing.
Finally, what would you say is your vision for your brand?
I’m trying to make a mark. I’m trying to make sure that my work stands out from the artiste and manager, I want them to be the biggest. The videos that I direct I want to touch like a lot of people. I want people to be like yeah, those ones. That one was crazy though! I want people to look for me. I want to be looked for. Yeah exactly.
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