Vusa Blaqs

Behind The Lens: With Vusa Blaqs as we talk about the AFRIMA’S, Film & Music Videos

With a never-ending list of chart-topping music videos, that have millions of views on YouTube, multiple awards win. Having worked with most of the top names in the Zimbabwean music industry, namely Ammara Brown, ExQ, Jah Prayzah. The self-proclaimed maverick and one of Africa’s top music video directors Blaqs is on a roll.

Born Vusumuzu Hlatshwayo aka Vusi Blaqs is indubitably on top of the music video game. Blaqs’ list of credit just keeps getting longer. His music video with Jah Prayzah ‘Dzamutsana’ has earned him a prestigious 2019 AFRIMA nomination. This puts him in Africa’s top music video directors list. What an accomplishment! Kwantuthu Arts Magazine managed to catch up with the ever-busy creative for an interview to talk about his journey so far, the AFRIMA’S, music videos, and what makes him tick.

How did you start your journey in film to get to where you are today?

My journey into film started with my love for music sort of mixed with my then-current occupation which was graphic design. So, I just started making music videos for musicians like Mzoe7 and Iyasa. At the time it was just a hobby which I did to just pass time. Later I realized I could get paid from this, besides the money, it was a passion of mine from the beginning to be making music videos and ultimately making a film. I kept growing until it became my full-time job. Eventually, I moved to Harare to be part of a film production called ‘Chinoyi 7’ written and directed by Moses Matanda. From there while I was in Harare I met EXQ and Ammara Brown who I went on to shoot music videos for. Things sort of fell into place from there till today. Where I am recognized by everyone in the film industry and I am still growing. 

What are your key elements in your film making process?

The first and foremost thing is I am inspired by music. Music is the thing that gets me going. Things happen in my mind where I start to picture, colors, textures, people, locations. And the concept comes from there. I could be anything that I am doing, which is not related to music videos. It a vibe that comes from me being in my comfortable space with the thing that I love the most which are music. So, when I listen to music I then create concepts like I said everything comes from there. After that, it is a matter of defining the time that we are living in today. In terms of fashion, what people are wearing in some instances. In other instances, I want to create something that the people in the future will see and recognize that some thought was put into making it. Another important thing is good storytellers, as in the cast I have to find something with an X factor or someone with an X factor all the time. To add that extra spice to the production I will be working on. I am also inspired by our culture and colors.

How would you describe your film production style?

My style in film production can be summed up with one word ‘emotion’.  Evert time I always ty create some sort of emotion whether it is disappointment, love, pride, or anxiety. I always pick the first emotion that comes to mind and run with it. I could say I am a very emotional person to begin with. I think that reflects in my work. Sometimes a script might not have enough emotion from the beginning, but I feel like by me being involved in the production. I am able to draw from my own experiences. To ask myself what this project is about, and it is always tied to a certain emotion. I then draw on my own experiences and personalize it as I believe that my own experiences are shared by others. Many times, I have discarded many good shots that lack emotions. Some people are motivated by cinematography, but I am motivated by emotions. In the future I want people to watch my productions and feel something.

Vusumuzu Hlatshwayo aka Vusi Blaqs
Vusumuzu Hlatshwayo aka Vusi Blaqs

Which one of the numerous productions you have worked on did you love the most?

My most memorable production at this time is a music video entitled ‘Dzamutsana’ by Jah Prayzah. My second one is ‘What you want’ by Ammara Brown, these are the music videos I love the most because of the process I went through making them. What you want’ I had just worked on a hit video ‘Bachura’ by EXQ and the pressure was to prove that I am not a one-hit-wonder. The pressure was from myself basically and other people in the media. So, by going back to my safe zone and getting lost in the music, focus on doing the best project out there. With conversations with the artist and forgetting about the external influences, I delivered a music video I love which also became a huge success. With ‘Dzamutsana’ it was my first time working with Jah Prayzah on his personal project. We had worked together on several projects but not one that was solely his own. Again with ‘Dzamutsana’ there was pressure because, to begin with, the video had been given to someone else. So I came in the last minute, the pressure I had was to not let people down. To deliver a product better than expected. We went through the script, costumes worked on all the logistics. ‘Dzamutsana’ became a huge success.

Can you share with us what your most memorable moment in your film career is to date and why?

That has to be the 2nd of November 2018, this is the day that the ‘Dzamutsana’ music video a song by Jah Prayzah was premiered. This was in the middle of an album launch at HICC, in Harare, Zimbabwe. The venue was full to the brim and all they wanted to do was dance. We had spoken earlier with Jah Prayzah and he had planned to not perform the ‘Dzamutsana’ song but instead play the video. We all knew that the song was going to be the hit song. Now the hit song is not being performed at the album launch, there was pressure there. When the video started playing at HICC, it was eclectic. People just went crazy as the video was playing, cheering throughout the video playing. Mostly we measure the success of a video through comments and views it collects. This time I saw the reactions live and all the emotions captured in the video, how people related was amazing. This is not even the best part, apparently, it was so good that the MC called me to the stage to say a few words. I was nervous and said a few words about the video. On my way back to my VVVIP seat I now greeted everybody. To top it up my mother had attended the event, she was sitting next to Jah Prayzah’s mum. So, as I went to check on her she was crying, she said: “My son I did not know you this is what you do, are so big…” The cherry on the cake is the 2nd of November is the day my dad passed away. So, I had brought my mum along so she won’t be sad and now the 2nd of November now has another pleasant memory.

Vusi Blaqs  on the October 2019 issue of KA Magazine
Vusi Blaqs on the October 2019 issue of KA Magazine

Congratulation on the AFRIMA 2019 Nomination. How does it feel to be ranked in the top of Africa’s music video directors?

The AFRIMA nomination is something I was not expecting. When I got the news, I was completely crazy. I ran around telling people about it. I know how big AFRIMA is, out of the thousands of videos produced in Africa. I was picked, my production was picked. Now it is essentially in the top five in Africa. How does it make me feel? It makes me feel like a god. I appreciate all the hours I put into perfecting my craft and trying to be the best that I can. It makes me realize anything is possible in life and thing can only get better from there.

Can you tell us how you translated the ‘Dzamutsana’ song into the music video it is today?

I had to ask Jah Prayzah a couple of times what does it mean? I got to understand the base and had lots of time to think about it. It was a team effort me and Jah Prayzah, we went through different looks, patterns. From the start we wanted to create a super tribe, that is a composite of the African cultures that we have. Create one that everyone in Africa can identify with. So skincare, bone through the nose, animal skins, beads, dreadlocks, skin markings all these are African concepts. When I say African concept, I mean throughout Africa you can find it. The concept of a caring father wanting the best for his daughter. That is universal, but also very strong in Africa. A young man trying to win over the love of a girl while respecting local customs and traditions. This shows our African culture of respect of the value of our common ways of showing respect. This also shows how committed African men can be with a long courtship process that is a story in its self. The visuals came into place, I wanted it to be memorable from the costumes to the scenery, the people, and faces. The song is epic, and the video became the exact representation of the song and our ideas.  

What do you do to unwind?

So, when I need to unwind I watch movies and listen to music. When I have some money in my account I like to travel. I feel like traveling just adds a lot of experience to me. By seeing things and experiencing them one becomes a better person. Nature is a big part of my process of relaxing. So just seeing nature, being carefree, movies, and music helps me clear my mind.  

Who are your heroes or people you look up to?

I used to look up to people like Clarence Peters, actually anyone who is doing music videos now they are not. Except for one person name is Dave Mayers, he has done videos like ‘humble’ and ‘get your freak on’.  Everyone else think it is a matter of resources that makes us different. My creative fathers’ people who inspire me are Kanye West, Quentin Tarantino, and Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs is one I would say is my hero.

Can you give us your favourite quote and one of your own?

“Why join the navy when you can be a pirate.” Steve Jobs

This speaks volumes to me. I am a maverick and I don’t line to conform.

“The secret to a happy life is in knowing why thing are the way they are” Vusa Blaqa

What are your favourite movies?

I am a big fan of the ‘inglorious basters’, I would add ‘Fight club’, and ‘The Grand Budapest’ Hotel. I would add ‘Kill Bill’ Vol 1 & 2 and a beautiful masterpiece called ‘Baby Driver’ 

What is on your music playlist now?

So these days I am listening to a lot of Fela Kuti and Burna Boy. Locally I would say Tien Diamond, Tamy Moyo, Kiki Badass. Classica would put Leonard Dembo. My most played songs would be Daft Punk and Kanye West’s ‘College Drop Out’ album.

What new projects, collaborations, shows can we look forward to?

I am definitely going into film probably start with a short film. In fact, I want to write, direct, and shoot my own short film. I would put it between 15 – 30 mins set in Harare, Zimbabwe.

I am not going to be doing any TV shows at all for the near future. Being something of a writer, storyteller, director, editor, cinematographer I want to give myself a big challenge to work on a project by myself. So soon you will be seeing something that defines who Blaqs is.