Interview: Carl Houston Mc Millan on winning the 2017 Jameson Music Video Grant and directing ‘Impepho’

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In 2016 The Jameson Indie Channel first launched the Jameson Music Video Grant, a project dedicated to the perfect combination of INDIE craft, extraordinary visuals and smooth production – a true blend of the arts. 

This year, 550 entries later, Carl Houston Mc Millan's entry for 'Impepho' was chosen for the R200K music video grant.

Carl is a director and writer living between South Africa and Lesotho, the majority of his work explores the latter.

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The song that was created through inter-continental collaboration with Morena Leraba (musician and shepherd from Lesotho), ManKind (a fresh voice making waves in the heart of Jozi) and Trap Funk & Alivio (DJ from Salvador, Brazil) brings 'Impepho', the visual exploration and celebration of Basotho shepherd culture to life.

We talk to the winning director and artists about the inspiration and journey in crafting the music video for 'Impepho' in the heart of Lesotho.

 

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To Carl:

 

What birthed the idea of mixing African subculture’s with Western behaviour, ie; highland shepards who gamble at the races?

 

Horse racing is something that is quite prominent in Lesotho, particularly in the highlands where everyone has a horse. It’s how people get around. So incorporating that was also really important for me. We cast the horses and jockeys in Semonkong where they have a race about once a month. It’s an energetic and exciting event with many attending, including shepherds.

The western influence I would say comes from Lesotho’s long standing relationship with the United Kingdom as one of its protectorates. As you may see in some of the blankets there are airplanes on as well as the queen’s crown. The significance of this was during WWII, Lesotho, then Basutoland raised the funds to purchase two Squadrons of Spitfire fighter aircraft for the defence of Britain: a disproportionately generous contribution involving considerable sacrifice. This history is sketched in to the blanket itself.


We live in a globalised world with influences coming from all corners of the globe, and I find it interesting to see how culture moves and changes with the times.

The influx of Chinese entrepreneurs to the country has increased quite a bit in the past 10 to 15 years. There is, without fail, a Chinese shop in every village of Lesotho. So the Chinese influence is becoming quite strong, I wanted to highlight this a lot more than I did in the video.
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What is the significance of the story?

The video was more of a showcase than a narrative piece. I’ve always wanted to make a music video that delves into the lives of shepherds. It is a bit of an unknown world even to those who are from and have grown up in Lesotho, like myself. This story was an attempt to do so and I learnt so much about this topic through the process. Every scene I did (specifically with Morena Leraba and the shepherds) was an authentic part of their lives. For example, the fire hut scene was not just because it looks cool; it was inspired by the shepherd tradition of burning the Motebo (shepherd post) before they move to better grasslands. This is to cleanse and make a mark on the Motebo so that no Muti resides.

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How did you develop the treatment for your entry into the Jameson Music Video Grant and how did your life in Lesotho influence your vision for the video? 

 

Well, personally, Lesotho is where I was raised so it will always have a special place in my heart. There are few places that have the same meditative effects on me like the mountains of Lesotho do. Professionally, I was initially drawn to shoot in Lesotho because of its natural and untapped beauty. It is not easy at all for various logistical reasons but it is always worth the struggle. Creating 'art' is about bringing a piece of yourself to life for others to see and experience for themselves, that is why I find myself coming back to Lesotho. It is a part of me I wish to express in film.

 

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Why did you choose ‘Impepho’  as the subject for your music video?

 

I’ve been wanting to do a video for Morena Leraba so when this opportunity came up I thought it would be great to use the song he made with the south African artist, Mankind. I thought the urban influence from Mankind’s side together with Morena’s very rural persona would be great for a music video… and it was. I also really liked the fact that the beat was developed in Brazil which just added to the “different worlds” charm.

 

Tell us about the journey. From the styling to the dancing, what was it like to direct such surreal scenes in African storytelling ?

 

The video is about the contrast between the urban and rural worlds and that regardless of who you are and where you are from, the most important thing is to have pride in who you are and not what you have. I have shot in Lesotho before telling very local stories so filming there was very comfortable for me. This video is unique as in you can't film this anywhere else. Its authentic to its environment.

 

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What does winning the Jameson Music Video Grant mean for your career as a young director? 

 

I am very grateful for this initiative from Jameson to support indie artists like Morena and Mankind. I am honored to bring their musical collaboration to life and put my vision into it.

As a director I hope this video gets recognized internationally and be seen by people who don’t know anything about Lesotho and the shepherds who don’t get much recognition. I respect how Morena Leraba gives power and voice to the shepherd and I wanted to help him do this with the video.

 

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To Morena Leraba & ManKind:

 

What is the message behind Impepho ? 

ManKind:

The main message is embracing your culture - Bragging about where you come from and not what you have. But it is also a party song, and the story is told through the music video. Visiting Lesotho we had the amazing opportunity to experience the scenes amoungst the mountains and dunes. We witnessed how happy and peaceful the BoSotho are with what little they have. The meaning of Impepho is 'incense' which is used to cleanse bad energy and bring in positive energy.

 

Morena Leraba:

Upon meeting with mankind, we decided to do a collaboration. We met his manager, I listened to his music and I liked his music. I had a track, Lithebera, which was my first single. I knew these guys from Brazil that had a great backtrack, which I played for Trap funk. Thereafter we wanted to do a song with Mankind. Imphepo is my journey with Mankind, my rural background with his metropolitan upbringing. It is a cleansing, starting a new journey.

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Music collaborations are becoming more prevalent and produce the most unique creations in sound. How did this collaboration happen and why do you think this diversity added to the success of the song?

ManKind:
My manager who is a creative director Thulasizwe Melane did a documentary based around Morena - how the shepherds live, what they believe etc. Morena visited Joburg for the screening of the documentary. That’s how I met Morena. He had a beat from Brazil, we recorded a song in True Black Nation style whilst in the Vaal. That’s how we came together and learnt about eachothers music and style.

 

How does the vision for the music video relate to the story being told through the song?

It is urban meets rural. Mankind, a city boy meeting with his friend Morena, a shepard. It is evident in the video, he sings in SeSotho in the song, talking about his clan and where he comes from. I come in as more of a rapper, this is the urban representative.
Starting this journey, Mankind is introducing his poetry and I am introducing mine. As Bosotho people, you want to show your skills and poetry – the technique of the poetry, the self praise in your journey and where you are from.

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How does the release of the winning music video influence your careers as musicians

ManKind:
In huge way. I am now exposed to things I haven’t been exposed to before. I get to see different perspectives and get my brand out there. it is a certificate of how serious this is - How I am going to take my career to the next level. I intended to be an innovative artist. I want to cultivate young minds and show them the perspective of how Basotho people live.

Morena Leraba:
First of all, it has taken quite a big step since it was announced as the top 10 in the Jameson Music Grant contenders. You read about all the other entrants and I saw many talented artists, (Desmond and the Tutus, Rudimentals). I was thinking “okay we made it to the top 10, atleast we did that” but since winning, it was more of a surprise. Carls beautiful vision of shepherds culture will showcase the Basotho culture – deep in the mountains, there are shepherds living their lives, creating their poetry about their journey's. As Morena, I am a shepherd. And the world is going to see us and our music as traditional music. Then the opportunity of working with new people who will now experience our culture. Through the Jameson Music Video grant, people will realise we are moving towards the modern world and we are given the opportunity to resuscitate traditional music through modern sound, which is very new. People will find that we can go back to our culture and traditional music and fuse it with the rest of the world.

 

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