African music is becoming mainstream with the rise of genres such as Amapiano and Afrobeats onto dance floors, daytime parties, festivals and gatherings around the world. Among the ranks of curators of the visual interpretation of African music; Director Kborn Qudus Olaiwola, is an often quiet figure who charted a path distinct from his contemporaries.
Starting out in the perpetually bristling clusters of Surelere, Lagos, Nigeria as a phone repairman in his uncle’s workshop, Director K’s curiosity led him to believe he could shoot videos on his iPhone. “I used to get super crazy on iPhones, I used to make iPhones do things that you normally couldn’t do,” he says OkAfrica with nostalgia.
Raised in the slums of Shitta, Surulere and Lagos – the home of the Afrobeats pioneer Assistant—Director K found a neighborhood artist called CO decoating, and tried his hand at making a music video from the lens of his iPhone. “It wasn’t much. It was just something in the hood that I shot with a few people.”
Now, in the parking lot of a lush apartment in Lekki, Lagos, Manager K regales me with stories of his trip while leading me to a modest swimming pool. The creative arts dropout saw his work nominated for Video of the Year at the Soul Train Awards, and he won a NACCP Image Award and Best Music Video at Nigeria’s most prestigious awards show, The Headies.
Photo courtesy of director K.
Last year director K shot the music video for Wizkid’s Time-attended “Essence,” arguably the song of summer 2021, while hemming videos for “Onyeka” and “Wonderful” off Burna Boyis a Grammy winner twice as big album. He also curated visual renditions for other Afrobeats pioneers davido, Wild Tiwa, as well as for the new class of Afrobeats superstars: Omah Lay, Fireboy DMLand Rema.
The 28-year-old director’s visual for Rema’s “Calm Down” is the fastest of any Afrobeats video to amass a hundred million views on Youtube, hitting the mark in five months.
Known for his picturesque portrayals and cinematic approach, director K has extended his directing skills to television commercials, working with Africa’s largest cable service, DSTV, and printmaking. Skeptaof Havana Club, among many others. For now, the reclusive director is focused on creating world-renowned visuals while advocating for recognition of the cinematic workforce and structure within the African film industry.
How did you become director K? Where does the name come from?
Director X was everywhere at the time. He was a big part of my inspiration. K represents Qudus in a sense.
What is the video you really wanted to shoot? The one you really looked like “I have to shoot this one!”
A video ? I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but I was going to shoot a video for Coffee‘s “Shine” but things didn’t work out due to travel restrictions.
You shot your first video on an iPhone. What was this process like? Did you intentionally want to start shooting videos at the time?
The process was basically me freestyling. No, I never intended to shoot music videos. I used to fix phones. I just thought, how can I film something with my iPhone? Then I shot a video for CO decoating. I doubt you know him. It didn’t turn out to be anything big; it was just something in the hood with a few people.
How did you switch from recording on iPhone to Director K?
It took me a while to start telling people I’m a director because I don’t like to tag myself with something I’m not sure yet. I had to do a lot of research because I didn’t go to film school.
Photo courtesy of director K.
Have you ever attended film school?
No, I just felt like I could take photos with a DSLR because that was the next thing I could switch to from my iPhone. Everything you want to know is on the Internet, like everything.
Why music videos?
With music videos, you can experiment. There are no rules, you can mess up and look like that’s how you planned it. In the cinema, if you make a mistake, it will certainly show.
What video was your first big break?
“Deal” by Teni. People felt like it was shot in South Africa. When “Case” fell, everyone was like “Is this really Lagos?” When “Sensima” band Skibii fell, people started blowing up my phone.
You’ve worked with the biggest names and been on some of the biggest stages. What are you waiting for next?
I’m looking for more challenges. Now that Afrobeats is global, the next phase is to go global with the visuals.
What are you most proud of?
I think “Suzana” by Jump Ground. When I was shooting this video, I was literally dancing. The first cut of the video was the final release; there was no change. I’m also very proud of “Essence”. There have been times when our artists have traveled to work with foreign directors, but it’s different now. They work with local directors, and the directors deliver.
What is the biggest challenge as a video director in Lagos?
The biggest challenge is not having enough options in terms of cinematographers, lead AC, gaffers and other technical roles, and that’s because only directors get attention. People forget that there is a whole team. You don’t have to be a director to earn that much as a director. At the Headies, there is now a category songwriter of the year. They are creating more categories related to music, but none for visuals.
Don’t you think it’s because we don’t have proper music-related movie awards?
Exactly! That’s the thing. I think an organization should put that in place. I can’t be the only person to be recognized. It makes no sense because other people should also be acknowledged. People may still remember that I shot “Essence”, but the people who worked on the “Essence” video, you might not remember because there is no organization that gives those people credits .
What do you want your legacy to be?
I don’t want to be forgotten. I want to have a very strong impact. Fela is immortalized, even outside of Afrobeats, outside of Africa. This is the dream, this is the goal. That’s why I give my all in every project I work on because I don’t know when or where it will be seen.
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