The video for 2face’s Holy Holy is one of the year’s most expressive and elaborate music videos.
Draped in a white robe, the iconic singer endures a journey that visualises the evils he sings of – the ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude, superiority complex and pride.
It is an intense masterpiece, directed by a Clarence Peters who seemed fascinated by the greenery and the outdoors.
If this is the case, it wouldn’t be surprising.
On November 10, 2017, the video for Bella Alubo’s unofficial refix of Wizkid’s “African Bad Girl”, titled “Gimme Love” was released.
From the first couple of scenes, a cut of Bella channelling her inner seductress and dancers bobbing in unison, to the final scene, it has everything you have come to expect from a video directed by the enigmatic Clarence Peters.
There is an empty warehouse, female dancers, graphic text, dark lighting, heavy makeup. As the go-to director for the moneyed side of Nigerian music, the video feels like Peters’ bazillion-th work.
Which is probably why, even though Bella is a relative neophyte, it seems like you’ve seen the entire video somewhere before.
It goes without saying that all music is expression. As soon as an artiste puts out a song, depending on the level of success it elicits or the resources available, the next logical step is usually to make a video.
Beyond expanding the scope of the song’s audience, the music video uses visual media to tell stories that musicians attempt to tell, sometimes vaguely, in songs.
Either by using over-flogged, aspirational, and sometimes unrealistic elements, like beautiful women or the hunger for wealth and success, or meddling with abstract concepts that intrigue the viewer, a music video director uses his perspective and understanding of visual storytelling to convey emotion, intent, subliminals, context and everything that mere sound may struggle to pass across.
It is this ability to turn a song into a four-minute movie, to merge his influences with a musician’s intent and deliver a pleasurable experience that made Clarence Peters the most sought-after music director in Nigeria.
At the height of his dominance, critics tagged the dread-locked director as “the prince of darkness” for his preference for dark lighting.
Usually, a dimly lit video is used to set a downcast mood; in the director’s hands, it has become a tool to convey exclusivity and aspiration. It was perfect for videos like Cartier’s “Owo ati Swagger (Remix)” and Runtown’s collaborative effort with Davido, “Gallardo”.
Today, that unique colour palette has lost its novelty. The Clarence Peters of bygone years is not the man who shot the video for “Gimme Love”. The reliance on particular elements that once gave his videos a familiar quality has now created a distasteful monotony.
A case in point is the video for Burna Boy’s sleeper hit, “Rock Your Body”. Ever the misunderstood, if hyper-masculine personality that he is, the song is Burna Boy’s take on attraction, love and physical intimacy.
“You say your man can’t control the body so I rock your body”, he sings at the end of the first verse. It is lust, with the possibility of love somewhere in between.
The song conjures images of a smitten yet confident Burna, offering to give this alluring love interest the experience of her life.
Instead, Peters goes for the style that has become his bread and butter.
The video opens with two strange looking men granting a dazed Burna Boy entry into what seems like a secret chamber. Burna finds a seat inside this enclosed space, with models clad in latex gyrating around yellow police tapes stretched almost everywhere.
It would be silly at this point to expect a well-lit video.
This time though, the darkness does not achieve whatever the filmmaker intended. Merged with a bright red tone, it casts a shadow on the models and Burna Boy, painting the entire scenery as a former asylum where Burna has somehow managed to convince these young women to dance for his pleasure until their bodies can no longer twist and bend.
The added effect of having the models wear contact lenses and inserting cut-aways of gold skulls, candles and a wheelchair does little to help the situation.
The allusion to sexual energy that runs through “Rock Your Body” is present throughout the video, and heavily so, but everything else that made the song a fan favourite is lost in translation.
To be fair, creatives define their style by calling on certain elements and using them repeatedly in different forms. The same could be said of the familiar pointers that now define a Clarence Peters video; but from a fan’s perspective, his recent work reeks of an artist who has found too much safety in his comfort zone.
While many of his peers have earned respect for their seminal work on massive hit songs, Clarence is valued for his understanding of how Nigerians perceive visual stories and what they relate to.
This unique skill reflects in what many younger fans consider his magnum opus, the short film he created for Falz’s “Soldier”. With all credit to Falz, the song itself was already descriptive enough with its style of humour-infused storytelling. Peters’ goes one further though, creating a context for Simi and Falz’s reluctant romance by depicting Falz the soldier coming to rescue Simi who had been kidnapped.
In the main video itself, he chooses familiar elements like Simi doing her laundry out in the yard with her friends, the open market where Falz pleads with Simi, an old classroom and an old mother who is more than willing to teach Falz a lesson in respect.
Together, they turn an already good song into every man’s story of a love interest that just wants to be left alone.
Now, with each new release, Peters now appears unwilling to explore much outside the skills he used so sparingly over time to make a name for himself. Even where the song begs for an eclectic interpretation like Burna’s “Rock Your Body”, the director’s work is too familiar, too set in his ways to excite the most loyal fan.
In a way, it is a function of the clout, respect and acclaim he enjoys. Since 2009, Peters has won a slew of awards, including 5 Nigerian Music Video Awards, at least two Headies and an MTV Africa Music Award in 2014 for Best Video.
In an industry that is defined by re-used concepts and the herd mentality, it is difficult to feel the need to prove anything when you’re seen as the best at what you do; the guy at the top of the pyramid.
In all fairness, the volume of work that Peters has created in the last decade is imposing. With videos like KnightHouse’s “The Finest” and Olamide’s “Durosoke”, he has pushed the quality of visual storytelling in music videos to a point where flash and pizzazz are not enough.
In that space, he has also mentored young directors like XYZ and R-Cube Oshodi who now enjoy careers independent of him.
Creativity is not an endless stream, and in the case of the overworked artiste, renewing energy is usually as important as spending it. For an artist whose job is to re-imagine one man’s art for millions to consume, this is even more true.
To re-capture the standards to which he is now held, the filmmaker needs to become comfortable in pushing the boundaries again. Some have said he is in a dark place and his recent work is a function of his struggle to find inspiration again.
Regardless if this is the case, Peters needs to leave his warehouse and his team of dancers in his rearview mirror.
Beyond the familiar is the opportunity to up the ante once again and cement a place he already holds in the pantheon of music video directors.
If he finds the level of unbridled creativity that he was once known for, lighting will probably be the last thing on our minds.
In the end, when it’s all said and done, all the audience wants is an engaging video.