Michael Muita Muthee has had to fight to pursue a career in the arts since he was a teenager.
The now-established music photographer, producer, and director was raised in Kenya and is currently based in Los Angeles, California.
The 24-year-old was one of the producers behind the music video for the track Closer by the Pakistani-Canadian artiste, Khanvict.
The song has been met with impressive success, winning the Prism Prize Audience Award, in 2022.
Muita describes the experience of creating the video as exhilarating and fulfilling. He is delighted to have worked on the project alongside one of his mentors, Anjali Nayar.
“Ms Nayar has a company in Kenya, where I interned back in 2017 without ever meeting her. I was working as a quality assurance tech manager and we never interacted or knew of each other until I came to the US,” Muita says.
“It was last year that we finally crossed paths and made a film together, a music video called Closer.”
He explains that the video is not just an aesthetically pleasing piece of art, but a socially conscious project that tackles the subject of colourism in the South-Asian community.
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“The prize we won is called the Prism Prize, and it is Canada’s most prestigious music video award. It also holds one of the largest cash prizes for a music video. We took home the Audience Award, which is based on votes by the people,” he says.
Muita says that he works with musicians at concerts and during performances, capturing professional images from the events.
“I have worked with Made Kuti, the son of Femi kuti, Eric Krasno, and multiple other celebrated award-winning artistes and local artistes alike.”
He considers the project Closer as his proudest work so far in music video production.
Muita describes his professional photography journey as a therapeutic endeavour for him, one that he stumbled upon during a dark time in his life.
“When I had just moved to the US in 2018, I was struggling with depression. Life was not as easy as I thought it would be,” he says.
“Over the process of getting better, I picked up a camera. I had done photography before, but using a phone. The love for photography helped me get better, and that is how I decided to get my first camera, which I did in 2019 as a birthday gift to myself.”
Now, as he looks on at his budding and promising career as a producer, Muita has come a long way.
As an A student back home - he experienced a lot of pressure to stick to professions in the sciences throughout primary and secondary school.
Although he would try to fit into the mold that he was constantly pushed toward, his heart would always return to art.
“I was born in Nairobi, and we lived in a number of places; we moved around because my mother was a cop. I was raised by a single mother who did everything to provide us with the best life,” says Muita.
“I knew that I wanted to act or do something around TV. But I feel that our culture back home was not the most accepting of that. My teachers constantly put pressure on me to either be a doctor or an engineer. I hid the artistic side of myself for a long time because of that.”
But one crucial moment in secondary school challenged Muita to finally be true to himself - when he finally let go of all the opinions and threw himself into a career in production.
It was a harsh comment by a Biology teacher that was the turning point.
“I was in high school, Form Two when I owned (up to) the fact that I wanted to be an actor. There was this one time when we did a Biology exam, and I scored the highest. My professor was impressed and when I spoke to her, she asked what I wanted to do and I told her I wanted to be an actor. But she told me, ‘do not waste your brain,’” Muita says.
He adds: “It was a tipping point where I promised myself that I would pursue this. I could not understand that statement at a time when everyone we looked up to was on TV.”
Muita says his decision to pursue acting and production continued past high school, when he moved from Kenya to Mauritius for a gap year, later joining the African Leadership University.
“I was motivated by a mentor to pursue my dreams and there, I wrote my first play, which was a resounding success. It was a play about a homophobic family that would not accept their gay son and it elicited all the emotions and conversations that I could only hope it would.”
He added: “It is not that I am gay or anything, but these are conversations that need to be had. A lot of my work is centred around such conversations - sexuality, religion, politics, and stuff that we do not normally want to sit down and talk about.”
After the play, titled The Knife, Muita felt confident enough to apply for scholarships across multiple institutions in the UK and the US; finally, he joined Santa Monica College.
“But I cannot fail to give credit to some of the institutions and experiences in Kenya that helped shape me as an actor, producer, and director. I was a member of the National Youth Orchestra in Kenya. I played the trombone during my last year of high school between 2015 and 2016. I also did several plays with the National Youth Theatre.”
Now, Muita defines success as ‘finding peace with oneself.’ He likes to surround himself with mentors who guide and motivate him.