dinsdag 3 januari 2012

Video clips and reggae

It has partly to do with an idea I have. As yet I only “play” with the idea, but it can become concrete. There’s even an above average chance that it will actually come to fruition. The idea is: making a video of a song of mine.

The song – of which a video can be made - is there. In fact, several are. For some reason (that I myself do not really know) I try to keep my songwriters’ persona apart from my other persona’s, such as this “blog persona”. Now, upon reflection I think it is a bit silly: neither is a “persona”. I do not have a persona: writing songs and my specific love for music is part of my person, myself as a human being. Writing about certain themes as well. The same “I”. I tried in the past to present a persona, but could not keep it up: luckily there is not too much of a “con man” in me. ”I’ll be myself and no one else”, as Dennis Brown sang in his song 'Tribulation'.

With video I mean moving image, including something of a story and or symbols – even with a script or scenario -, not the slideshows of photos that are so common on YouTube. Visually and artistically enhancing the song, that’s the video’s ultimate goal. With this theme I also continue on my last blog post (on documentary films). But I will not expound on a plan or idea that is not concrete yet. The song in question is neither made public yet. Therefore I am not going to discuss this potential video or content thereof. (You’ll hear and see it, when it’s ready and public, haha).

Since I am a big reggae fan, and also to a degree an expert on it (love and knowledge are intertwined for me), I thought it would be a good idea to analyse “reggae videos”: the song’s genre I want to make a video for is also reggae. I could also analyse all video clips of all popular music genres, but that is simply too much, I think. Yet it can be relevant. That is why I chose an intermediate solution: this post is on broad aspects of pop music video clips in general, but specifically focuses on reggae video clips: what characteristics recur?, what do good (reggae) videos make? etcetera...

This way even if (almost) no one reads this post or blog (which is quite probable), I still maybe get ideas and background info for my own prospective video. Ha!


My nascent and developing love for reggae music owed nothing to the videoclip. It was in the vinyl and cassette years that I started to listen to reggae: Bob Marley, Wailing Souls, Culture, Burning Spear, Israel Vibration, Gregory Isaacs, Dr. Alimantado, Yellowman...Mostly roots and early dancehall. I am talking about the mid-to late 1980s. It was about the sound, the music, the words, the “feel”...The visual came into play, however. I liked it when on album covers photos of the artists making the album were shown: to see what artists look like, expressions on faces, and sometimes even something of the surroundings and an atmosphere. I was somewhat disappointed when an album cover (front, back, nor inside sleeve) showed not the artists, and even more when there was neither another clear image (just a white or blue cover for instance was a bummer: Gregory Isaacs’ 1984 album Easy for instance was fine, with some good songs -'Tenement Yard'! - , but had a cold and boring, unimaginative blue cover).

But these disappointments or irritations were mostly marginal. It was and is about the music and the idea. Mainstream and more commercial genres had video clips, so I reasoned. Then, during the late 1980s and 1990s this was largely the case. Video clips just had become more common in the course of the 1980s (reason why Bob Marley never actually made a video clip himself), but became especially the norm in more commercial genres: Duran Duran, Genesis, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Prince and other artists made (or supervised) video clips made especially to accompany a song on the market. This had to do with big companies, commercial goals, and also, well, racist policies of MTV etcetera. Outside of the reggae person’s realm, you might say...


Temporarily, however, I later became more fascinated with video clips. Especially those that I saw on Yo! MTV Raps. Mainstream, but not too much, let’s say. Especially early, “old school” hip hop often had video clips that seemed more real and authentic than those of other pop genres. I liked Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s 'The Message', and songs and videos of Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Poor Righteous Teachers, Eric B & Rakim, Ice T.. These seem to portray real life and social problems, I thought. That is the difference: specialized in reggae I did not need video clips to get me into reggae. On the other hand, I got into some hip hop through video clips.

Then there were occasional video clips in other genres that somehow fascinated me, such as e.g. Al Jarreau’s 'Mornin’': a nice song with a video fitting its mood and lyrics (of a man in love), including the happy cartoon birdie, although bordering on cliché. It worked for me. Even outside of “Black” music: there were videos that were as effective as they were atmosphere-enhancing. I was intrigued by Ultravox’s video for 'Vienna', I found it fitted well the song - which I liked – and its mood (even if I did not know what neither song nor video was exactly about,..I still not..), as well as The Stranglers’ video for the nice 'Golden Brown', seemingly referring to Western views on Egypt. Spandau Ballet’s videos, on the other hand, seemed too overdone and pretentious for me, as were some videos by Phil Collins (about whose vocal skills I’m neither impressed, but that’s another issue), and e.g. David Bowie’s video for the 'Ashes to Ashes', a song I liked, the video less (too distracting, maybe). More recently I thought Nirvana’s video for 'In Bloom' was funny and moving.

Still remaining more a reggae than a hip hop (or any other more mainstream genre) man: I largely kept disassociating the “video clip” from the reggae scene.


Actually there were some reggae video clips around since the 1980s, meaning actually scripted video clips. A nice example is 'Amigo' by Black Slate from 1980, a celebratory tune that reached the mainstream (if marginally), even with its Rastafarian content. I did not really see it when it was a hit (a “summer hit” it was called) in Britain or the Netherlands, but years later, and I liked it. A nice video, scripted but kept simple, and with the Black Slate band members enthusiastically participating, rendering it somehow genuine. The increased dancing at the end fits the celebratory tenor of the song well: the lyrics are about how Jah is your good friend and guide. No special effects were used, but I did not miss these.

Eddy Grant does make reggae, but his 'Electric Avenue' is not reggae, yet borders on it in some way (Caribbean vibe?, social criticism?). I liked this video (the song as well), though it had “vague” aspects and special effects which related to the lyrics, but maybe not everyone got.

Since the late 1990s some changes in the music industry, modernization, internationalization, or otherwise, made that more reggae video clips started to appear. It had partly to do with a slight connection to the mainstream some reggae obtained. Not even reggae as a whole, but certain crossover artists (like before once in a while with Third World and others) – or artists trying to cross over - made scripted video clips: Shaggy, Maxi Priest, Shabba Ranks, even Pliers and Chaka Demus. Even videos of Black Uhuru ('Great Train Robbery') or Sly & Robbie had crossover aspects. Sometimes they seemed influenced by hip hop videos..


This continued and increased after 2000. Mainly mainstream-related, but “democratization of media and means” (to put it some way) in the music industry, also in Jamaica, made that video clips appeared even for not obviously crossover attempts. Think artists like Sizzla, Capleton, I-Wayne, Anthony B, Chezidek, Lutan Fyah, Fantan Mojah, Richie Spice, or Natty King. Artists who, so to speak, “keep it real”, and are outside the international pop mainstream (MTV, Grammy, that kind of shit). Real and Rastafari-inspired reggae, in this case part of what is called the New Roots movements. These video clips are mostly okay, I think: some kept very simple, some more complex, mostly not too distracting, and with the artists appearing most often naturally behaving. These videos are rarely shown on the most commercial stations (MTV), but at times on other stations, even in the US (such as those aimed at the “Black” market). Richie Spice’s video for 'Righteous Youths' seems well-balanced: right degree of symbols (youth, Rastafari) relating to the message, and the music performance as central.

Video clips originally had a commercial rather than an artistic goal (promote the song on television), and the question is then: does reggae – real reggae – need video clips in this day and age? Promoting is not always bad, and this way other audiences can be reached, while still keeping it authentic. It is also nice to be able to take a good look at the artist or musician who is singing a song or performing.

Important is that the visual should support the song/music, not the other way around. This touches on the same theme I discussed in my previous post: the visual should add, NOT distract from the content. In fact: the music should ideally speak for itself! Examples of distractions are too superficial special effects, sexual references (e.g. sexy dressed/undressed and sexy moving women or men) when the song is not even about sex, or strange camera focuses/viewpoints or filmic effects unrelated to the song. If I want to be distracted..it should be from something bad or boring, NOT from a good song. Another example of distraction: (unnatural) overacting, such as by the artists: seemingly more consumed by the video than by the song. The music should come first! Visually good dancing to the song’s riddim, on the other hand, can enhance the listening experience..


Do we need video clips then? Well, if they do not distract they can certainly add something to the song’s “feel”, such as through the artists, images, atmospheres, proper symbols (for much roots songs Rastafari symbols are relevant), city- or landscapes, or cultural expressions. This can even – if well done – add to the authenticity. As a combined art form so to speak.

For somebody “deep” into reggae - like myself - the promotion function of a reggae video is maybe not necessary. If I find, say, Sizzla’s 'Chant Dem Down' a “crucial” song (and I do) and do not have it on mp3 or CD, I can always check it on YouTube, where the vast amount of music continues to surprise me. Connect the computer with the amplifier of my stereo and “ram it!”. The video on YouTube probably is accompanied by a mere short text, a photo of an album cover, or of Sizzla, a slide show, or sometimes even a well-scripted slide show with Rastafari imagery and effects (check I Wayne’s 'Smart Attack' on YouTube for instance), but that is not that important: I just want to primarily “listen” to the song.

On the other hand: I heard Sizzla’s 'Chant Dem Down' in a reggae-minded club. Maybe a video clip on visual media would help others get to know a song or artist they did not know, but like. It is all about spreading your music as an artist. There is not necessarily something wrong with that, as long as the video does not “distract” too much, keeps it authentic and real, shares the message and intention of the song (or even strengthens the intent, if possible), and even broadens the listening experience. That is an interesting artistic challenge, besides the promotional purpose.

Is the video fitting with the artist as a person, with the song, with the lyrics (when discussing, or in real life often in a place/town... show it), and with musical aspects? I guess there should be authentic ways to make video clips accompanying songs: well-scripted, artifice only if necessary, touching, moving, even educational, or funny (if appropriate)?


I aim at being as original as I can. I do not intend to copy other video clips, so I am not planning to use “models” as such. I do admit, however, that elements of certain videos “inspire” me toward something in the same vein. The mentioned 'Amigo' for instance, “travelling” on the road (as in Sizzla’s 'Thank You Mama' video), flash-backs, walking in rural areas/nature (like Fantan Mojah’s video for 'Stronger'). This Fantan Mojah’s video is a good example of letting the music come first: the video does not distract, but adds. Low-key with few special effects. Or, a clear story line, such as in the video of Natty King’s catchy song 'Mr Greedy', also may be effective.

Of course a “parody” of sorts is possible, but a reggae “video clip parody” I know also happens to be of a (albeit loose) cover version: I am talking about Sizzla’s 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', a nice dancehall cover/reworking of the Bob Dylan song, with a similar video: artist with words or texts on papers and even also a “cool” or “hip” guy on the other side of the street from the artist apparently talking with someone. The surroundings looked different, however (more Caribbean thus relevant). My song is not a cover (the vocal part), not even a loose one, so such a “model” video is I think irrelevant in this case.

Too much special - or too special - effects are maybe not my thing (I am not very visually oriented). Moreover, these probably do not fit the introspective lyrics of the specific song I have in mind. If and when I ever get to making the video, I am curious how a video would visually support the song: if I appear in it: should I act to a degree (though I prefer to behave naturally) – with clothes I usually don’t wear, things I don’t do, places I don’t go -, or just be myself? If I act, portray a role.. can irony make that more palpable? Singing or dancing to my song in the video I do not mind, but that is not what I mean with "acting". Further..is humour appropriate? What symbols fit the lyrics and how are these visualized? And a few special effects can still have an additional value, if not excessive... I’ll see (hopefully).....