The video master: Sasha Vybz is one of the renowned video directors in Uganda. He is probably the biggest thing in the music video game right now, with Wale Wale, Nkwatako, Go Down Low, and Twatoba among some of his notable work. Did going to film school make him what it is? Isaac Ssejjombwe spent some time with Vybz and he tells us why he thinks Ugandan videos still have a long way to go.
Who is Sasha Vybz?
My real name is Ian Akankwasa. I am a music video director, film maker, editor at Savy Films. I’m more of a down to earth person, fun loving, outgoing, I love the simple things in this world. I don’t like sports, I love dogs, I watch a lot of movies and I never stop learning.
What inspired the name Sasha Vybz?
Sasha is a name I got in High School. It was a character in a movie I used to enjoy. I can’t quite remember the movie, but he was the lead actor. I don’t have an explanation for Vybz though.
What were you doing before venturing into shooting videos?
I was a photographer. I did fashion photography, weeding photography. I decided to venture into music videos because the cameras we used then are the same cameras that were used in making videos, so I had to graduate from a photographer to a film maker.
Which photography studios did you work for?
I had my own studio in Wandegeya and worked with other studios that I would rather not mention. I also partnered with Globtech but most of my work was freelance. I closed the studio when I was travelling to South Africa.
Is that where you got the experience to shoot videos?
Yes. After three years in photography, I travelled to Cape Town to study film making because I had the passion and desire to become something more. I studied at CityVarsity School of Media and Creative Arts. It is basically a film school for film making, sound recording and everything film.
When was that?
That was from 2012 to 2014.
Why did it have to be South Africa?
Because it is the best place to study film production in Africa; some of the products of that school include Clarence Peters, God Father among others.
What was the first Ugandan video you shot?
Jordan by Sheebah. She flew me in to shoot it and after, I went back.
Does someone have to go to school to be a good video director?
You need to first get the basics and school is where you can get them. I think going to school teaches you when and how to break the rules. It shows you how to behave as a film producer and follow the regulations.
So when did you decide to return to Uganda?
In 2015. I felt like the Ugandan market needed me more than South African and I always wanted to stand on my own.
Had you shot some videos in South Africa?
Yes, I shot one for an artiste called Sdumo, and Faceoff, a Ugandan artiste based in South Africa. The rest have been more of short films.
What do you think of Ugandan videos?
I think the game has changed. We have had a big transformation in the past two years, compared to the videos that were there four years ago.
What makes a good video to you?
So many things really, because a good video depends on what you have achieved at the end of the day. All that matters is if it portrays what the song is all about. To me it is all about pleasing the people who are going to watch the video.
What is that one video you look at and wish you were the one who shot it?
To be sincere, none. I look up more to myself as a challenge. I think the work that I look up to is my work.
What do you think artistes are not doing right to get their videos to international level?
Well, we are there 30 per cent and the 70 per cent is lack of finances to push. People forget that even videos need to be marketed. Also, those who have broken through don’t want to share the connections they have. We can only take down the Nigerian industry if we unite.
What is the one video you have done and you feel like; ‘This is the best video I’ve done’?
I like all the videos I have shot and they often come out the way I imagined them.
What are some of the videos you have shot?
Byebyo by Bebe Cool, Wale Wale by Jose Chameleone, Go Down Low by Sheebah and Pallaso, Twatoba by Pallaso and Davido, Stress Free by Eddy Kenzo, Only You by Lilian and Orezi, Nkwatako by Sheebah, among others.
Does the video have to rhyme with the song?
Most people expect the video to look like the song, which I think is old fashioned. I have tried to channel people into a direction where you don’t find an artiste in the video singing, but you can actually follow the whole story.
Do you think a hit song requires a video?
A hit song is a hit song. Most of the time people do videos to push the song.
What kind of arrangement do you have with Deuces Entertainment Group?
They are my partners.
How much do you charge to shoot a video?
I would leave that to the clients. But we don’t charge too much, although we make videos look so expensive. It’s a fair price.
What challenges have you faced in this business?
People have trouble trusting us on set or on the location where the video shoot is going to take place. People don’t trust anyone with a camera and we have been at the extent of being arrested. Another challenge is the financing. Since the industry is still growing, it is difficult for artistes to invest in their videos.
So what packages do you offer for a video shoot?
I offer concepts, visual, I portray an image for you of how the video is going to look, production on set and locations.
How long does producing a video take?
It is a process. There is pre-production, production and after production. Pre-production takes a week and it involves thinking about the concept, visiting locations and when everything is done, the video might take 12 hours, depending on the time of the day or if it involves travelling, it might take up to four days, and the editing usually takes a week. So, between three weeks and a month.
How many videos can you shoot in a week?
It depends on how I have planned, but I can commit myself to a maximum of two videos because I always want to give myself time to create something fresh.
Do you think it’s worth it for Ugandan artistes to travel to Nigeria or South Africa to shoot a video?
I think it is up to the artiste because it is never wrong to search for fresh waters. If they are not getting what they want here, then the problem is with us.
Were you offended by Bebe Cool’s remarks that he will “never stand in front of funny Ugandan cameras again”?
I was not offended because I have worked with Bebe Cool on Byebyo and we have two more videos coming. I really don’t want to take sides because what he said changed something in the game. It made most directors wake up.
We hear most artistes are running to you to shoot their videos. What do you offer that others don’t?
I think it is the way you package yourself. At Savy Films, we dream of being an international brand and our work speaks for us. We take ourselves to be professional and when you give that to a client, they come back.
We have seen video directors come and go. What strategy do you have to stay around?
Two things; research and keep rebranding. Don’t feel comfortable because someone else might come with fresh ideas.
Do you plan to shoot videos all your life?
I have a farm in Kabale, and I do TV commercials and some of the companies I’ve worked for include NSSF, Centenary Bank, iDroid, Movit and I also do film and documentary.
What do you do in your free time?
I spend time with my son, Riley. I also play my PS4, visit relatives and go to the cinema.
Are you married?
I’m in a relationship but not married.
I was born in Kabale and raised mostly in Kampala. I come from a family of six; four boys and two girls.
My dad, because he’s the most humble guy ever. He’s hardworking and taught me never to undermine jobs.
They are so many but the one that left an impact on me is Snow Piercer by Chris Evans (not the Ugandan artiste). I love the way he portrays life and how we live in different categories.
Yes. I have a dog called Lisa, and she is a German spitz.
Best audio songs in Uganda…
Mic Ya Ziggy Dee and Munakyalo.