The Meji Alabi Fever
It was one thing to sing a hit single; it is another thing to have visuals that leave the audience captivated and leave them transported into the visuals. From Seyi Shay’s “Murder”, Maleek Berry’s “Kontrol”, Davido’s “Assurance”, Tiwa Savage’s “Sugarcane” to Wizkid’s “Fever”, it is almost as if Meji Alabi knows what the audience wants to see when they watch a particular video.
Alabi’s recognition into the behind-the-scenes of the Nigerian entertainment industry started with Maleek Berry’s “Kontrol”, a video that stressed the cool vibe and personality the Maleek Berry was bringing into the Nigerian market. The visuals they had seen on MTV in the early 21st century was finally being replicated in their country, a win for them. The crisp and vibrant video would go on to be one of the top three videos in the year 2016.
As unique as people’s taste in music is, Meji Alabi’s has successfully appealed to the minds of various music audience even when the song does not fall within their favourite genre.
On how he can create different videos for different genres, he says,
“It has been asked many times but the music is what really pushes. Music comes first so we listen to the track and when I hear that… maybe I’ve seen imagery somewhere or I remember something I really liked or something in the lyrics speaks to me…” he explains.
“There is plenty of different places to draw inspiration from but for music videos, it all stems from the music and we work away from there.”
Alabi’s nature to be inspired seeps through before the start of the interview, as he questions the studio’s different locations and his openness to wear rings during the shoot (which he claims to have never worn in his life). Perhaps, the perfect inspiration for his next video.
With Nigerians full appreciation for quality videos, their need for premium content alongside the video has steadily been on the rise. Therefore, the need for redirection by directors is paramount.
“Once you get past that (crisp videos) and you look to the story, then you see it for what it really is. What makes a good video is how it makes the audience feel, does your audience want to watch it twice? I guess that is what I aim for when I am working on my videos,” he says.
We see testimonies of this in the biggest songs of 2018, Davido’s “Assurance” and Wizkid’s “Fever”. Despite being love songs, the audience can identify the different cool and raunchy themes in the video. He says his aim was “to tell the love stories as beautifully as possible and use the different energies for the different relationships.” He adds, “I think we nailed it!”
An interesting highlight of his career in recent times is the directional video of Wizkid’s “Fever”, a controversial video that highlighted the alleged relationship between Wizkid and Tiwa Savage. The sultry video attracted over 1 million views in 24 hours on YouTube and became a conversation starter on and offline.
Making this successful video was no small feat as he only arrived in Ghana a day before without any prior knowledge of the location. However, there is no doubt that despite its impromptu nature, this video redefined the single from being just another song to a historic hit.
If controversies such as that is a good strategy, he opines that although it might favour the artists because they are into show business, it may not be good for directors to participate because it can be seen as “gimmicky.”
While we may admit that the concept of “Fever” (love stories) might have been done in the past by the likes of 2Baba (African Queen) and Flavour (Golibe), not one of those videos have made such a monumental impact like Alabi’s Fever.
But it is one thing to see a concept for the first time, it is another to appreciate it when it becomes generic.
Alabi attests to this when he says, “You try and push yourself with every video, technically, creatively, physically. Just try and make sure that you do something that is true to you and also represents the artiste in the best way. I guess it is easy to fall into the trap of how to make an Afrobeat video, add some colour, lots of dancing, people have seen that a hundred times so that when they see it again, they go, I know what this is and turn the television off.
“As a creative, you have to feed your own soul while feeding your artiste and make sure you are self-serving in the sense of – I want to push this video as hard as I can.”
Asides that, there is a limitation on creativity which is influenced by money and interestingly, the audience.
“Most of the time when you want to make a project, for some reason, it is always over budget. There is always something going on. In Africa, outside of South Africa, the production support is not there, so your difficulty in your production level multiplies. This is because you have to fly somebody in, fly some equipment and all that”.
However, he adds that the landscapes, people, texture and backdrops make it is worth it in the end.
“You can’t go too far in a certain way without the artiste saying, my people are not going to get that.”
These problems have not deterred the video director from getting recognised internationally. With accolades from music mogul Jay Z, his collaboration with Skepta and Wizkid (Bad Energy) and Casanova (2 AM featuring Tory Lanez and Davido), Alabi notes that he is glad to be a part of the movement putting Africa in the spotlight. “Africa is really making big steps in the international music scene and that I am glad to be a part of.”
He also adds that despite these successes, he is more interested in his creative growth than in money. It is why he is open to and has worked in commercials, rap and pop videos.
Grab a copy of the Guardian Life to read more on the director and how he is able to excel in his art.
Tip: It is an inset in the Guardian Newspapers.