TV is a popular folk art and we have no criteria for measuring it?- Marshall McLuhan
Let me start with why i got into this. i have always asked questions of music videos. Why put that there? why does the artist appear so many times in the video? haven’t i seen the story before? But what really pushed this exploration was the recent release of music videos from 3 popular reggae artist in Jamaica. “Rastaman wheel out” by Chronixx, “Who knows” by Chronixx and Protoje and Diamond sox by Iba Mahr.
These videos forced a certain reflection on the ideas that were communicated through music videos even if the videos were for songs representing Rastafari artist. There was a contradiction and a tension for me with some of the images, the ideas and the presentation, essentially, the conversation of the videos. “Rastaman Wheel out” is directed by Ras Kassa, “Who Knows” is directed by Storm Saulter and “Diamond Sox” by Jay Will (Game Over).
So I had 3 starting points. What was a music video? Who were making music videos in Jamaica and what ideas where being presented in music videos featuring Rasta?
Media Theory, Marshall Mcluhan- a framework for Rasta videos
McLuhan proposed that media themselves, not the content they carry, should be the focus of study—popularly quoted as “the medium is the message”. McLuhan’s insight was that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. McLuhan pointed to the light bulb as a clear demonstration of this concept. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence.” More controversially, he postulated that content had little effect on society—in other words, it did not matter if television broadcasts children’s shows or violent programming, to illustrate one example—the effect of television on society would be identical. He noted that all media have characteristics that engage the viewer in different ways; for instance, a passage in a book could be reread at will, but a movie had to be screened again in its entirety to study any individual part of it.
Marshal Mcluhan’s analysis is critical. What is the video? what is the music video and what does it do?
For this analysis i am referring to Rasta videos as featuring Rasta artist or made by directors who identify as Rasta.
Rastafari is particularly important to African identity in the Jamaica and the African Diaspora. Rastafari has been an important philosophy for understanding and deconstructing colonial ideas, institutions, oppression and the status quo as represented in the idea of “Babylon”. Part of the question in this article is about the “power” of this medium to affect/transform/shift that focus of Rasta and to bring Rasta into mainstream/babylon/uncreative/uncritical ideas about our world.
What is a music video?
I found a history of music videos on wikipedia;
A music video or song video is a short film integrating a song and imagery, produced for promotional or artistic purposes. Modern music videos are primarily made and used as a marketing device intended to promote the sale of music recordings. Although the origins of music videos date back much further, they came into prominence in the 1980s, when MTV based their format around the medium. Prior to the 1980s, these works were described by various terms including “illustrated song“, “filmed insert”, “promotional (promo) film”, “promotional clip”, “promotional video”, “song video”, “song clip” or “film clip”.
Music videos use a wide range of styles of contemporary video making techniques, including animation, live action filming, documentaries, and non-narrative approaches such as abstract film. Some music videos blend different styles, such as animation, music, and live action. Many music videos interpret images and scenes from the song’s lyrics, while others take a more thematic approach. Other music videos may be without a set concept, being merely a filmed version of the song’s live performance.
One of the facts i found most interesting from the history of the development of music videos is emergence of Music Television and particularly the launch of MTV in 1981. A few questions emerged from this fact;
- How did we first have access to music videos in Jamaica?
- When did cable tv first come to Jamaica?
- When did we first get access to MTV?
- What was the first reggae music video on TV?
- Who was the first local music video director?
- How are videos then different from videos now?
The Music video director
Music Videos have music video directors.
- Do music video directors think of themselves as artists?
- Is there an art of music videos in Jamaica or the Caribbean?
- What do music video directors think about their medium?
To explore some of these questions i started looking at the work of different music video directors in Jamaica. I started with Ras Kasa and i went through his youtube channel to examine his video style, the artist he worked with etc.
Ras Kasa- A Jamaican Music Video director
I found an interview Ras Kasa did with Caribbean beat magazine in 2009. It describes how he emerged as a music video director .
And it all happened by accident. Kassa’s story is one of chance, ambition and instinct. His first love was music. He started out as a DJ and playing in a band. “I remember one day we was going down to a go-go club [strip joint],” he recalled. “We were planning to bum-rush it and go on the mike and DJ and ting.
“But that never work out and we ended up at Frontline, which was a big street dance at the time.” There he met Trevor Bailey, a video producer with a studio. “Him tell me I must come by the recording studio, and there I start making beats and learning to record music. I was like an assistant engineer, yuh know.”
After working as a production assistant with Bailey on a video shoot for Althea and Donna’s remake of Bob Marley’s Simmer Down, Kasa was commissioned to do the Deadly Medley 1 video for TOK. He then did their video for Chi Chi Man—and “it went crazy…it was ridiculous.” Suddenly, he was the director every Jamaican artiste wanted to work with.
It is also very interesting that the controversial song “Chi Chi man” by Jamaican dancehall artist T.O.K is what propelled him to success in Jamaica.
On March 2013, the Jamaica observer reported that Ras Kasa was taking a break from directing music videos because of “fallen standards”and quoted him as saying the following:
“The music industry is in problems, the music coming out now is crap. I don’t want to mess up my history,” he told Splash.
According to Ras Kassa, a good video demands good music. But it does not stop there.
“Second, you need artistes that have sense, a good concept, good directing, good stylist, a good director of photography, good art department and last, but not least, a good film producer,” he said.
While pointing to vast improvements in technology, Ras Kassa says most of the videos being produced in Jamaica are not up to international standards.
“It’s a better time now, they have good cameras which are cheap, but I am not sure the product coming out is better,” he observed, adding that when he started, directors had to learn the dynamics of lighting and composing a shot.
Having directed over 100 music videos, he only rates about five Jamaican productions highly. The rest, he said, is “borderline garbage”.
Concept, narrative, characters, space and technique: content analysis and music video critique
I examined Ras Kasa’s work on his Youtube channel. I watched each video and made a note of key elements by asking these questions?
- Who is the artist?
- What is the song about?
- Where is it set?
- What is the main story or idea in the video?
- What are the main techniques/styles that are being used in the video?
- Who is in the video outside of the artist?
- How are women portrayed in the video?
- How are men portrayed in the video?
- What themes/tropes emerge from the video?
- What was my immediate reaction to the video? why?
- Were ideas in the video familiar? Where there are any familiar references?
- How was i using this to interpret the song?
- How are the videos by this director similar or different others he/she has made?
- Does the video explore political ideas?
- How does the video address Black/African/Caribbean identity?
- How does the video address gender and sexuality or represent these ideas?
- Does the video contain violence or abuse?
Case studies of RastaVideos by Ras Kasa
I am presenting videos accompanied by my initial thoughts on them. i am leaving these open to discussion. Since there has not been much discussion on Rasta videos to date, it is useful for exploring further some the issues we are raising.
Same artist same style. pretty girl.
Women as sex
technique- Story while cutting between scenes
The use of struggle as a theme in music/ downtown scenes
example of style for the Rasta Man and how the director’s personality can really impact the appeal of the video as opposed to telling other stories. This video seems to be a series from videos done for Nas and Damien Marley. Note the similarity with promise land.
Welcome to Jamrock Ras Kassa’s best video
Ras Kassa he regions hotest director of music videos
Rastafari within the medium of video
In the first part of Understanding Media, McLuhan also stated that different media invite different degrees of participation on the part of a person who chooses to consume a medium. Some media, like the movies, were “hot”—that is, they enhance one single sense, in this case vision, in such a manner that a person does not need to exert much effort in filling in the details of a movie image. McLuhan contrasted this with “cool” TV, which he claimed requires more effort on the part of the viewer to determine meaning, and comics, which due to their minimal presentation of visual detail require a high degree of effort to fill in details that the cartoonist may have intended to portray. A movie is thus said by McLuhan to be “hot”, intensifying one single sense “high definition”, demanding a viewer’s attention, and a comic book to be “cool” and “low definition”, requiring much more conscious participation by the reader to extract value.
“Any hot medium allows of less participation than a cool one, as a lecture makes for less participation than a seminar, and a book for less than a dialogue.”
Hot media usually, but not always, provide complete involvement without considerable stimulus. For example, print occupies visual space, uses visual senses, but can immerse its reader. Hot media favour analytical precision, quantitative analysis and sequential ordering, as they are usually sequential, linear and logical. They emphasize one sense (for example, of sight or sound) over the others. For this reason, hot media also include radio, as well as film, the lecture and photography.
Cool media, on the other hand, are usually, but not always, those that provide little involvement with substantial stimulus. They require more active participation on the part of the user, including the perception of abstract patterning and simultaneous comprehension of all parts. Therefore, according to McLuhan cool media include television, as well as the seminar and cartoons. McLuhan describes the term “cool media” as emerging from jazz and popular music and, in this context, is used to mean “detached.”
Where is Rastafari’s analysis and understanding of media and media content?