Military Touch director: The rise of a superstar

By Bruce Ndlovu

The visuals for American rap group Bone Thugs’ Crossroads were the first to inspire Military Touch’s video director Vusa Blaqs to first pick up the camera.

Vusa Blaqs

A staple on the Tich Mataz-hosted Coke On The Beat music show back in ‘90s, the video was as awe inspiring as it was haunting, with the main protagonist, a heavily build man in dark glasses, collecting the souls of the recently deceased.

Clad in a leather jacket, this Grim Reaper travelled from scene to scene, picking up the souls of those whose journey on earth had come to an end, all the while cradling an infant in his arms.

It is such dramatic and cinematic video making that encouraged Blaqs, then just Mbizo Primary School pupil who had no clue he would be making striking videos two decades later for Jah Prayzah’s star studded Military Touch movement.

“In 1995 I was captivated by a Bone Thugs video for the song Crossroads. The video sparked something in me. On the African landscape it was a video for Tajabone by Ishmael Lo, I’m not sure if it was 96 or 97. That video haunted me for a while because of the imagery that was used and how cunning and artistic the storyline was.

“A lot of people didn’t get it at the time when we watched it and we didn’t understand what it was all about. However, I did my own analysis of it and what I came up with is that there is a lot of art that goes into the making of a music video and that inspired me in a way,” said Blaqs in a recent interview with Sunday Life.

Although his passion was ignited by masterpieces that were made before the turn of the century, 2017 is the year that Blaqs has become a star in his own right. While his potential is flowering now, the seeds were sown last year when he directed the videos for EXQ’s smash hit Bhachura, as well as Ammara and Chengeto Brown’s Watchu Want.

A year later, Blaqs’ name is now as recognisable as that of the artistes whose songs he brings to life on screen. Halfway through the year, he had already grabbed headlines for threatening to quit the music industry while feud with rapper Stunner also kept him in the limelight.

A few years ago, it was unheard of that a video director could have such a high profile. While in the United States video makers like Hype Williams attained superstar status decades ago because of their extravagant, big budget videos, Zimbabwean directors have always seemed content to stay in the background while the musicians shined in front of their cameras.

However, the rise of the likes of Vusa Blaqs and Andy Cutta has changed the game. As artistes like Killer T and Jah Prayzah seek to trade the local scene for regional and international markets, good videos have become a highly treasured commodity.

Despite his videos featuring prominently on Channel O or Trace Africa, Blaqs says featuring on those stations is not his main motivation.

“The funny thing about me is that I haven’t submitted any video to any local station. I’ve had no desire to do that. Even to a regional TV station. I was just making videos for the fun of it.

“I was never motivated by being on Channel O or stations like that. When you concentrate on making the best product out there, sometimes that product finds its way to where it’s supposed to go but when you set out to create something for a TV station you might fall short,” he said.

The love of the craft, Blaqs said, was what had inspired him to reach such dizzy heights.

“The first time I made a music video I had no idea where to submit a music video. All I wanted to do was to make a music video. Later, I discovered that you can put it on YouTube and from there that is when I got requests from people from TV stations asking for it,” he said.

Despite leading the new generation of video directors that are now emphatically knocking on the door of stardom, Blaqs acknowledges the work of older Zimbabwean directors who never got as much prominence for their stellar work.

“I was talking to Dr Oliver Mtukudzi yesterday and we were both marvelling at some of his old work. He told me about the guy who did the videos for Ndakuvara and Perekedza Mwana. Those videos are classic. I’d like to reach that level at some point in my career. I want my stuff to be studied by university students in future so that’s where I’m going,” Blaqs said.

The two Tuku videos brought his songs to life in an illuminating way, with the visuals a spectacle on their own, something that is difficult to achieve given Tuku’s sublime lyrics and excellent musical arrangement on the track. In the era of the superstar video director, Blaqs expects this to be the norm rather than the exception.

“The video has to feel like part of the song. There shouldn’t be a stark contrast between the two. By the way this is not based on the lyrics of the song.

For me you don’t hear a song but you feel a song. Music is supposed to invoke a feeling and those feelings you get come from the song’s sound. It’s about that seamless relationship between the sound and the pictures that the director comes up with,” he said. Sunday News

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