Regulars / Nicer Tuesdays

Meji Alabi on discovering his roots through film and music

In the second half of October’s Nicer Tuesday director and photographer Meji Alabi joined us to discuss working with artists who are “transcending borders and representing the culture” of Africa. With a unique directing style, Meji’s eye has seen him shooting videos for the likes of WizKid, Davido, Burna Boy, Maleek Berry and Tiwa Savage.

“Filmmaking led me back home," Meji told the audience back in October, while discussing how shooting films reconnected him with his Nigerian roots. Raised by Nigerian parents between London, Texas and the Caribbean, Meji felt that he never belonged to any place or culture. “I was never really an insider anywhere," he explained, “but I wasn’t really an outsider either.”

Spending his degree taking photos, Meji moved into film through making hood videos. “It teaches you to be quick on your feet, but it also teaches you to use what’s in front of you,” he explained. Travelling to Nigeria after studying, Meji quickly discovered that the music community was very direct – artists would contact him without the use of labels. Soon developing relationships with these artists on a personal level, the director “felt like I had a duty of care to the culture, to make sure that I’m representing it in the right way, with them,” leading to a series of eye opening music videos.

One video in particular the director discussed with the audience was 49-99, a video shot for Tiwa which saw the team take over an old run-down railway station in Lagos for 23 hours. The title of the song and video refers to a saying in Nigeria attributed to Fela Kuti – where 49 people are sitting and 99 people are standing in a transit bus. “It stands for suffering and smiling” Meji said, “it’s a statement for the economic circumstances of many African countries, then and nowadays. This was Tiwa’s take on it,” he continued.

The film itself has many aesthetic influences, from Seun Kuti, Versace, to schoolgirls in the Congo. It recreates images from history, some of them recent, and celebrates culture whilst simultaneously being a statement: “an F U to Patriarchy” Meiji called it. “Every scene has African elements in it, with Tiwa as the centrepiece. As an iconic woman in power,” he said.

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