I wrote this post for another magazine back in October. But I thought, since I haven’t written here in too long, I’d share it here.
I’ve always said that I wish there was a blind Rihanna. Why? Because I think disabled people too deserve to be portrayed as hot and sexy. Especially those who are hot, sexy and disabled. I am not claiming to be a blind Rihanna, but my singing career has recently started taking off and I am going through all the works. Writing songs and recording music is hard work, but it’s the easy bit. It’s all about sound. And sound is something I am good at. But there’s so much more to music than just recording. There are the live shows, the TV appearances and the music videos.
Yesterday I shot my first ever music video and as much as it was fun and exciting, it gave me a lot of wake-up calls I’m gonna share with you.
“So when I say action, you start performing to the camera. Just move a little. Touch your face. Don’t dance too much. This is a love song and we want it to look sexual.” The video director stepped back and I nodded that I’d understood his instruction. Maybe. I was very nervous. Apart from the director and his crew, I was surrounded by my own crew. People I know and love. But still, this video thing being completely new to me, I wish they’d all disappear so that they wouldn’t see how stupid I was probably gonna look. Oh come off it, I thought. If you think like that, it will look stupid.
“Action!” I was jolted out of my nervous thoughts by the first bars of my song Ifemi and I plastered a smile to my face and started singing while I made some moves. But I couldn’t relax. I was constantly wondering whether I was doing the right thing. Was I looking good?
“Cut!” I stopped singing, still keeping the smile. “You need to make more movement with your arms and not so much the body.” The director explained. “Do you mind showing me how?” I said. Experience has taught me that I understand things to do with dancing and movement better if someone physically shows me how to. Instead, the only other female in my crew came over and showed me a couple of things. Still confused, and starting to get annoyed with myself for messing it up, I tried doing some more variations after the next “action!” But it wasn’t really working.
Feeling slightly defeated I sat down as the other discussed in rapid Yoruba about what to do now. I realized that the first thing I’d need, was to invest in some serious dancing and movement lessons. My rhythm is good. But I need to learn finer routines and different ways of dancing.
“Hey.” A deep male voice and someone holding out his hand for a handshake got me out of my chair. “I’m your boyfriend for the day,” he laughed. I have rarely ever been so happy to see a stranger, but his personality and his “I’m an actor” had me convinced that the shoot was somehow going to be saved. “Oh baby, I’ve been missing you!” I replied in a mock dramatic way while laughing. His arm around my shoulder, we started walking towards the back of the room, where my solo disaster had started. “I must say, I love the song. Very Native and sweet.” “Thank you.” “I also saw the first shots you just made and, well, it just seemed like you wanted to sit down. And I said to the director, No we can’t do that.” I shook my head. “You know, the hard thing for me is those movements you sighted people find easy and natural, they don’t come automatically to me, because I’m never really sure how they look.” “I get that.” He said. And I could tell he really meant it. I was even more assured now, that the video, after all would be fine.
Everything became easier once the actor was on set. He very quickly understood how to relay information to me in a simple and quick way so that I always understood what I needed to do. He even showed me essential things such as how much I needed to turn my head to change my glance from him to the camera, And because Ifemi is a love song, meaning “My Love” in the Yoruba language” and because that again allowed a fair amount of touching, it and being close, it was easy to make an instruction look like he whispered sexy words into my ears. And if I forgot to look in the right direction, he’d tilt my head carefully towards where I needed to be and place a kiss on my cheek for effect.
Another thing I learned about music videos is that acting really is a big part of it. No matter how personal the song you wrote is, you are in character ones that camera is on, because you act out a story. And being in character, means you have to think talk and act like that character too. So another thing the actor did to make me feel relaxed between the takes was to talk to me in character, something I found very enjoyable. We made up a story for ourselves. He was a rich business man who traveled around the world, and loved buying nice jewelry for me. He even got into exclusive details about each piece of jewelry I was wearing. While I was a successful singer who loved dating my rich business man who gave me jewelry. We had each other in stitches many times throughout the shoot. So much so at times, that I actually forgot a couple of my lines. Because that’s another thing I didn’t know. You constantly have to sing to the camera so that, whatever else you are doing, you are performing the song all the way through.
When it came to my solo bit, the one we had given up earlier in the day, I was a whole lot more relaxed. And my saving actor sat behind me, out of the picture giving me hints every now and again. The whole thing was over only after a few hours.
Another aspect of being a musical star and being blind is that you are entirely at the mercy of your stylists. Their taste may not be the same as yours. And at times, I was not sure whether I looked strange, whether colours fitted together and so on. But at least if that’s the case, my defense is that it was a concept and that I did as I was told. I guess that clears me of any fashion crimes.
Being a blind Rihanna, or being Rihanna for that matter, means that you have to have everything on point. As a blind person, it’s not impossible, but there are, as you’ve seen from my experiences, added challenges that sighted people don’t have. However. This first video experience has been a very valuable one and though I have a long way to go to be anything remotely close to a Rihanna, I have learned a few things from this shoot that I’ll take with me. I was lucky to work with such a professional actor in the first shoot and if I worked with people who are less experienced, or just not as good at relaying information to me, I now know what information to ask them for. “Where’s the camera?” “Does this look convincing?” “Give me some hints if I’m not on point please.”
And I can’t wait to see the finished edited video. I hope it will look good.
Update: I had a music video shoot the day after writing this article and it was a whole different experience. The video director was much better at giving me directions all the way through. And if I didn’t understand a certain instruction, my manager or one of the other crew members helped supplying the explanation. This second shoot was in fact so enjoyable that I was sorry when it was over.