Picture this. There are seven different dating ‘situationships’ on Mejja’s latest track, Kanairo Dating. Seven women, each story different, every situation with its toxicity or craziness.
The song has in two weeks gotten close to two million views.
Besides the dance transitions between the scenes, the whole video is movie-like.
Going through the video’s comment section, one thing is clear. There is a genuine appreciation for Mejja’s incredible storytelling skills about ordinary and relatable experiences that can only be complemented and expounded by a video format.
You can almost live through his every word and expression because he is rapping about you, your friend, your ex, or someone you used to know.
Award-winning director and filmmaker Ricky Bekko, who directed Mejja’s Kanairo Dating, besides Usiniharibie Mood, Siku Hizi Ni Kubad, Tabia Za Wakenya, and Ka Unaweza, explains that different artistes approach the art of storytelling differently.
“I will give you two cases. Mejja writes his song with the story in mind. So he will come to me with an idea about how to approach the video, and I will add a few things to the execution,” says Ricky, winner of PMVA Video Director of the Year 2019.
“On the other hand, Khali (Khaligraph Jones) will send me a song (audio) and tell me ‘Buda! Nataka video noma!’. So it is largely up to me to take my time and craft a concept of what I think would make the video hot,” says Ricky.
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He says there is a level of trust between the two artistes and himself, based on the acknowledgment of each other's strengths.
“While shooting his (Khali’s) recent song (Mbona), he just appeared to the shoot without knowing what was about to happen, but that is his confidence in me, I guess,” says Ricky, who will be shooting the OG’s next video featuring Ali Kiba.
We have had painters of vivid pictures amongst us, rap artistes who have gone beyond a genre associated with pomposity and inflated egos, to deliver stories that are as believable as having ‘based on a true story’ as a preface.
Take your pick from Tabia Mbaya (K South), Under 18 (Jimwatt), Landlord and Jana Kuliendaje (Mejja), Miss Mboch (Alahola), Walking Class (Ala-C), Blue Uniform (Sauti Sol) or Compe (Bamboo).
As more TV stations invested in music video shows, it becomes important to feed the consumers with stories. Across the border, they made a meal of it.
Rita (Marlaw), Binti Kiziwi (Z Anto), Kibanda Cha Simu (Soggy Doggy), and the sort of penmanship in Mikasi and Kimya Kimya (Ngwea). And that is just a slice.
But no one exemplified the art in Tanzania as Mejja does over here than Professor Jay, whose songs like Nikusaidieje and Zali La Mentali were entire movies. For the Best Songwriter Award winner at the 2009 Tanzania Music, his song has always been about real-life experiences, be it love, HIV/AIDS, or politics.
In Ndio Mzee and Kikao cha Dharura, the immediate former Mikumi MP addresses a crowd as an aspirant and then convenes an emergency meeting to explain why he had failed to meet the promises. The two songs are a satiric critique of politicians, but the imagery is so relatable, that they force you to look inward, as both a politician and a voter.
Mind you, the two songs are on consecutive albums.
For these storytellers, it is never about a verse that rhymes or a few chunks of lines that tell some story, but words that get a life, walk the listener through a scene, and give them a clear picture of the situation.
“It is knowing your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you are saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal. And ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings,” said Andrew Stanton, the writer behind the Toy Story franchise, in a Ted Talk titled The Clues To A Great Story.
Have the current artistes discarded the allure of storytelling for the pull of modern video styling that features attractive vixens, monochromatic sets, colour-blocking wardrobes, and sets that can be elevated to anything imaginable within one shoot?
“It is the times we live in,” says Ricky. “There was a time everyone wanted to tell a story, as you would notice in many older videos. But right now, most artistes prefer a set and if as a videographer or director you are a purist to one style, the artistes move elsewhere.”
He adds that he does not hold it against anyone for choosing what they want to invest in, saying he has been around to see his fair share of different approaches.
“I have worked with people who are totally clueless about audiovisuals, and some who are very involved. It is my job to deliver what the client wants.”
“Storytelling, is joke telling,” adds Stanton. “We all love stories, we are born for them.”
Take the case of the hugely popular and urban legend Geri Inengi.
Sir Bwoy raps; "Cheki fala amekam na amezubaa, Na anacheki ati Subaru ya mambaru imekam na imejaa", and Domani answers, "Alikam na kinini? kiturutututu! Kam na kinini? Kibuguduguboom!"
Without seeing the video, you can mentally see what is about to happen, and when it eventually does, you almost feel pity for the "fala".
They say ‘show, do not tell’, but when it comes to rap, you have to tell.
In Kendrick Lamar’s We Cry Together, from his latest album Mr Morale & the Big Steppers, he gets into a heated argument with his lover, this case Taylour Paige, each blaming the other for the deterioration of their relationship, then dives into gender wars, before ending the argument with make-up sex.
Though deemed a weak song by many critics, the song has a brilliant storyline, capturing romantic, social, racial, and ethical discussions from two opposing perspectives, using a dialogue format to make it easy for the listener.
The biggest asset of storytelling is the ability to be able to live in your own words, and for this, inspiration can come from shared experience.
HR The Messenger, winner of three awards at Unkut Hip Hop 2020, has penned some amazing stories; one of the songs is titled Waridi, which was sparked by one boring moment in a studio.
“I was in a studio with Markus is Ill and X-ray King and I was tired of making the same old songs,” he says.
“So I suggested we work on a concept track and we chose the same girl narrative because we had experienced the same thing at one point in our lives.”
Waridi is about a hot babe that the three artistes met separately, and as each narrates an encounter with this mysterious lady, whom each rates highly, they realise they are talking about the same person!
And it was not an easy process. “It usually takes me an hour max to finish a song. But Waridi took about four hours because we had to fill up all the plot holes and weaknesses in the script.”
Made to seamlessly weave in and out of the three artistes’ lives, Waridi herself is just a sub-plot of their own everyday lives, meeting up, performing, and selling weed on the side.
And because the audio won’t do the concept proper justice, they shot a video a year later, to great reception.
HR has another story to tell on Crossroads, a story of his life so far, from the day he was born.
In Invisible Currency, Khaligraph Jones gave his own story in five minutes and 36 seconds on Khali Cronicles, bars of pain, disappointments, grief, inspirations, building his brand, flows and flaws, corporate deals, and enjoying the fruits of a labour of love.
The art is not just in the narration, but the chronology of events, every year captured with its own story.
For Chris Kaiga, he believes in showing - creating beautiful visuals that are interesting with every view, whether he is an old man nostalgic about his heydays, or walking on the ceiling.
And as technology advances, there can only be a million ways to tell our stories.