Gbenga Salu is undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s young and most promising music video directors. In 2008, the year he started directing, he won the award for Best Special Effects and Editing at the Soundcity Music video Awards. A year later, he was awarded Most Promising Director at the Nigerian Music Video Awards. Born and bred in Lagos, Gbenga who has been twice nominated for Best Screen Producer at the Future Awards has a long list of winners to his credit, including Aye ole (Infinity), Ten Ten (MoHits), Viva Africa (Fela), Turn me around (Kenny Saint Brown ft. Dagrin), Believe in me & Two legit (T.W.O), Omoba (D’Prince), Change your Parade (Lynxxx), God Hand & Na so (Eva), Ore (Ibiyemi), Run with you (Lara George), and Bianule (Samsong). In less than a decade, he has gradually but surely come to establish himself as a major player in the Nigerian music video circles. In the interview with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu, he talks about his initial stint in Mechanical Engineering, his persistent love for the creative arts and eventual switch, his knack for discovering things on his own, and other enlightening details.
Tell us about your journey
I am Oluwagbenga Adedoyin Salu, a native of Igbogbo, Ikorodu, Lagos State. I was born into a large extended family. I am a cartoonist, video director, producer & editor, and visual effects artist. My nickname is ‘masterstroke’, but my close pals call me ‘master’, for short. I grew up in Shomolu, Bariga, and I attended a number of primary and secondary schools before going to the University of Lagos to study Mechanical Engineering. I did that naturally because I was a science student in secondary school. I did Mechanical Engineering for two years, but I soon realised that it wasn’t what I was supposed to be studying. I was already expressing some form of creativity in the arts, even from my secondary school days. I always wanted to do what I am doing now – visually creative stuff. I have always thought of doing weird creative stuff like trying to create my own Gameboy with paper when I was 12.
How did you get involved in shooting and editing music videos?
Actually, it was accidental! I set out to become an animator/VFx artist. It was one of my visual effects practices that the Christian music group, Infinity, saw that birthed the much-acclaimed video “Ayeole”. At a point, I drew cartoons for my departmental editorial board, and then I published a magazine every semester, which I called ‘Kampus Laffs’. I published five editions of the collection of cartoons and jokes. People loved my works and after a while, I started animating my cartoons. I began to learn how to use different software to do animation on the computer. That was how I continued to discover advanced software and I developed my skills.
How did you come about the nickname, “masterstroke”?
Well, I could draw very well, and in my first year studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos, I was already a popular cartoonist because people would come from other faculties to check out our notice board for my cartoons. My pen name was ‘Master Stroke’ and people just naturally took to that. My cartoons were consistently hilarious.
How did you transit from Mechanical Engineering into Creative Arts?
By the time I was in 300 Level, I had to make a tough decision concerning my course of study. I decided to change to the Creative Arts Department, still in the University of Lagos. It was quite difficult because I was moving from one faculty (Engineering) to another (Arts). I had to lose a session because of that change, but luckily, while studying engineering would have taken five years, Creative Arts was for four years. That way, I still graduated as initially scheduled. I was just determined to go after what I was really passionate about. I graduated in 2005.
What was the reaction of your parents when you indicated changing over into the arts, after studying Mechanical Engineering for a while back in the university?
They expressed a little fear about the switch, but at that point in my life I was already a freelance cartoonist for The Punch Newspaper and a number of other publications in Nigeria and the United States. I was earning some modest living with those jobs already. So, that portfolio sort of helped my argument. I spent more time convincing my mum though. It felt more ‘coo’l saying your son was an Engineer than saying he was a cartoonist. Today, they are very glad that they allowed me, I believe.
I have won numerous awards, including the Soundcity Music Video Awards, SMVA, for Best Editing and Visual Effects in 2008, and the Nigeria Music Video Awards, NMVA, for Most Promising Director in 2009. I was nominated for Best Screen Producer for the Future Awards twice too.
Which job was your big break and how did you achieve success with it?
The work that gave me my ‘big break’ was “Ayeole” for Infinity. Ironically, it was actually the first time I was on the set of ANY music video. I never understudied anybody; I just solely relied on my several years of research, my guts and God! In fact, I think knowing too much before you start something may sometimes be your undoing. It has a way of constraining and limiting your thought pattern to the norm. So, I am in a way glad that I was ignorant of some things I ought to have been scared of. I learnt as I went on with the project. The success of the video came naturally because it gave people something to think about. It was something very fresh and different from the regular.
Have you ever shot a movie, and what distinguishes shooting/directing movies from shooting/directing music videos?
I shot a couple of short films before I started shooting music videos. They were experimental works though. Music videos in themselves are short movies; you’ve only got between 3, 4 or 5 minutes to tell a story. But I think the main difference between directing a movie and directing a music video is the liberty you have to be wild, crazy and ultra creative with the music videos. In producing a movie, you need scripts. For a music video, you need concept. You are a lot more at liberty to express creativity in a music video than for a movie. However, there’s more time to create an impression with a movie.
Are you very selective of what you work on and what kind of music video would you rather not shoot/direct?
I am selective. I need to feel right about the song. I look out for the content, production, artiste and quality of the song.
What common mistakes do young video producers/directors make and how can aspiring video producers/directors avoid these pitfalls?
Common mistakes could even start from entertaining fear! Another is trying to be like an established director. Don’t copy anybody’s camera angle style or picture style. If you are gonna give us what we already have, why then do we need you? Originality always stands out.
Could you share some of the embarrassing moments you have had in your career with us?
When someone rudely criticized my work to my face without knowing I directed it. Another was when an artiste tongue-lashed me on phone for delivering a couple of days late. But the most common is when people meet me for the first time and I can read on their faces that they are trying to reconcile Gbenga Salu, the director, and the ordinary looking fellow standing in front of them. I guess they are always expecting to see a winged, haloed being.
Who are your role models and mentors in Nigeria and on the global scene? What is the role of mentorship in career success?
Really, I don’t have role models here; just people and colleagues I admire. I admire Tunde Kelani for his cinematography. I am amazed by the quality of work he has been able to produce, especially after finding out some of the tools he used in carrying out such jobs. On the international level, it has to be, without a doubt, Peter Jackson. He directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He’s good. He inspires me always! I hope to meet him someday. It’s quiet important that you have someone that has already accomplished all you’ve ever dreamt of achieving. It gives you a benchmark for the least you are allowed to think of.
Have you had any formal trainings and certifications? If yes, where? If no, do you plan to, any time soon?
I have had no formal trainings. I’m totally self-taught. I’ve got plans to do some sort of professional training though. I don’t mean I just wake up one day and ignorantly stumble upon things. I do my research on most especially music videos that I am curious about. I find out how the video was shot, and there is an unending sea of tutorials online, free and paid content. So, I can access whatever information I need at any time. Nevertheless, I know there’ll be a time when one would need some form of certification to ascend in one’s career.
From your observations in the industry, locally and internationally, how useful can formal training be?
It’s not the ultimate. There are many successful self-taught directors in Hollywood. I am a strong believer in the fact that what you teach yourself in never forgotten! That doesn’t erase the fact that formal training is a good idea. We all learn differently; some need it to achieve, some don’t.
How would you rate the entertainment industry in Nigeria, especially in terms of video quality, directing and content?
The standard is at its all time high! The creativity level is awesome. The picture textures are terrific. The industry is getting more and more competitive, and that is a welcome development. With competition come new innovations. Africa, world… watch this space – Nigeria!
What have you been up to lately and what should we expect from you in the near future?
Of late, I have been doing more TV commercials, although I have about four videos at the post-production stage. So watch out for new concepts. I dream of directing blockbuster movies in the near future too.
How would you advice young people out there who want to become music video directors?
All you need is guts. Pick a camera, go out and shoot stuff!
Any other thing you want to tell our readers?
Jesus is Lord.
*Gbenga Salu blogs at http://gbengasalu.blogspot.com
BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu is a freelance writer and editor. He blogs at Gbenga’s Notebook!, a repository of his thoughts and other works.