With the rise of Afrobeats becoming more mainstream, it’s hard not to notice the remarkable visuals that go along with the songs. Olalekan Buari, better known as Unlimited LA is one of Nigeria’s top music video directors who’ve worked with countless local and international artists. Maleek Berry, Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Konshens, and even Busy Signal have all connected with the self-made director to produce extraordinary music videos just to name a few. In 2015 he won Best Director at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards, Headies award, Nigerian music video awards, and Nominated Best director in Afrimma Award 2016.
In the years of listening to Afrobeat music, I’ve always admired the quality of African music videos, from the vibrant colors, the amazing sceneries, and of course the dancing. Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Unlimited LA takes pride in developing unique visuals with his vigorous color scheme, precise camera angles, and prominent concepts.
In the interview, Unlimited LA discussed the challenges he faced with executing videos aboard, working with difficult artists and the connection between Dancehall music and Afrobeats. I also have an exclusive insider on the self-proclaimed director that you heard here first!
Where are you originally from?
I’m from Lagos, Nigeria.
How did you get the name Unlimited LA?
The name Unlimited was given to me a long time ago by my friend and colleague because I can do a lot of things when it comes to production. I could write, I could edit, I could produce, I could direct and I could shoot too. So he called me Unlimited because I have unlimited skills.
Did you go to school for directing or were you self-taught?
I didn’t go to school mainly for directing. I learned from my cousin, his name is DJ Tee, he’s one of the first busiest directors in Nigeria. I studied computer science and mathematics originally and I lived with my cousin throughout the four years of university so I just happen to know everything at the end of the day.
What made you want to start directing if you were studying something completely different in school?
Umm, well I don’t know I just started camera operations for different directors and I thought I was pretty good at it so I just started off on my own.
How did you get into the industry of directing? Was it through your cousin since he was already established in the media world?
No, it was just me doing lots of free work. I was particular about the name and the brand rather than trying to make money so I did lots of free videos that put my name on the map there.
What attracted you more to directing music videos rather than film?
At first, I’m a cinematographer that’s like my base talent. Being a cinematographer and when you’re a cinematographer you can actually work on anything: movies, documentaries, videos and all of that, but the music video business is fast rising in this part of the world in Nigeria. I shot like two movies but it takes lots of time and with music videos, you can just get them out as quick as possible. It’s a great industry and I just wanted to be part of it.
How long would you say it typically takes for pre-production, production, and post-production all together?
A month maximum with music videos, sometimes two weeks. Like depending on the urgency of the task. I’ve finished a music video in two days, ya know.
What software do you use to edit your music videos? Do you use Avid or Adobe Premiere?
Adobe Premiere is what I use.
Which song and music video do you think ultimately launched your career?
In Nigeria, in my country, it would be an artist called Sean Tizzle. His song ‘Sho Lee’ was really big in the country so I shot a video for his song that was 2013 and it made the song bigger. That was the big break, I shot a couple of videos before that but that was the video.
Your style of shooting and the video quality are very different especially from the average music video over here in the States. What inspires your vision when creating music videos? Explain your typical day when you get a project.
First, it has to be the song, it has to be the sound, ya know Reggae, Dancehall, RnB, Rap, Trap. Then after the sound, I listen to the lyrical content, then after that, you get to understand what type of artist your working with. So putting all those three together you definitely arrive with a particular result. For Busy, he’s from Jamaica and when he sent me the song he told me that he didn’t want a typical Jamaican type of video with the high yellow, red, green, or have girls twerking upside down and I said ‘say no more I got you’. I heard the song, I went with the flow of the lyrics because he was really talking about a girl dancing in the yard, ya know, so I just had to run with that.
What big name artists have you worked with local and internationally?
I worked with Konshens, I also worked with 2Face from Africa Nigeria, he did African Queen, I worked with Davido, I worked with Wizkid, I worked with Olamide Aye, I worked with so many East African artists, I also worked with P-square, and I worked with J.Martins. The list is just endless. I also worked with Maleek Berry, he’s from the UK, also Culan he did a song with Konshens, I shot the video in Miami. Yea so the list is pretty much scattered.
I saw that you won an award for Best Director back in 2015, describe the feeling of owning that title.
I would say the aftermath of that is having more work to do. Ha! You have to convince people that you can do more. After that, the pressure was too much because everyone wanted to work with me. It wasn’t really possible to work with everybody so it was a lot of pressure for me.
Since everyone started reaching out to you, how did you decide which artist you wanted to work with? Did you do a process of elimination or did you go with whichever song resonated with you most?
Yes absolutely! At one point I was shooting four videos in one week, it was crazy. I don’t edit though, I only finalize and I do the coloring by myself but I have staff that helps.
With all of this success would you consider yourself a celebrity or a famous director?
Hahaha! Well, yea you can say that.
How did the collab with Busy Signal come about?
It started from VP records. They saw a video I did for Maleek Berry, they reached out to me to shoot a video for Culan and Konshens, we shot that scene in Miami and it came out good. And after that Busy’s team reached out to me.
What gave you the inspiration for the Busy video? Was it the lyrics, the beat, or the overall concept?
I listen to the song throughout the day because I’m not really familiar with the accent from Jamaica and he used the patios, so I had to listen carefully to be able to understand everything that’s said. It took me like the whole day to listen to it and prior to that he already told me that he didn’t want a typical Jamaican video so I just listened to the song and I developed something.
What was it like working with Busy?
Busy is very easy going. He just waits for me to tell him “oh were back” because we had some technical challenges on set and he was really cool, very reserved and all that so yea. He’s a very calm artist, it was my first time meeting him and I’m really impressed. I think it’s because he has years of experience so he kind of know what he’s doing.
Have you ever encounter a difficult artist in the years of you directing?
Umm.. no. All the artist I worked with luckily we’re always friends first, even before we started working we happen to share common ideas. So I never had any difficult artist.
Since you are currently living in Lagos, what kind of challenges do you face when executing videos abroad?
It would be explaining your vision to the team over there, like the production team over in the States. When shooting in Miami, most of my technical team were Spanish so it was a few language barriers. They didn’t speak English fluently and complication was a huge problem first. But because everyone is experienced in production, once I point at something they’ll probably know but it takes time for them to understand what I’m trying to do. So the challenges will be language barriers and trying to communicate because I can’t speak Spanish, I don’t even understand it at all. You know in Miami you got a lot of the mixed cultures there as well.
The Busy Signal video had similar characteristics like Maleek Berry’s music video “4 Me”. Due to the similarities in style, do you have a signature or trademark that you try to incorporate in all your videos?
Yea it would be my camera angles. Like you said Maleek Berry was similar to Busy. My camera angles, that’s like my signature. I love beauty shots and I love low angles rather than wide shots. Once you see those two angles you know that’s me. Ha!
Were you familiar with Busy Signal before the video shoot?
Sure I was.
Do you typically listen to Dancehall/Reggae music?
Yea of course.
Do you feel there is a connection between Dancehall/Reggae & Afrobeat?
Sure, Major Lazor is doing a great job merging the artists together because you see “Watch out for dis” that kind of sound, then you have another one Major Lazor did with Jidenna and Ice Prince, this kid from South Africa. You know it’s just bringing the vibes together, and I think Afrobeats and Dancehall music has a strong connection.
Do you think there is still a connection when it comes to shooting an Afrobeat video vs a Dancehall video?
It’s very similar. In a Dancehall video you have to showcase dance, style, ya know. Also in Afrobeats you have to showcase dance too, I mean we may dance differently but at the end of the day, it’s very similar.
Any upcoming projects your working on we should be on the lookout for?
It would probably be more music videos, then I really want to go into web series. That is going to be happening later in the year. I have a story but I don’t want to talk about it much now.
Is this web series your speaking about a first-time exclusive?!
Haha! Yeah, it is.
Okay folks, you heard it here first! Unlimited LA is coming out with a web series, haha! You have to leave me with at least one secret, what network are you planning on doing your web series on?
I plan on doing it on youtube because I think its easier to work with youtube over on this part of the world for me.
Any future projects with Busy?
Hahaha! I don’t know, not that I know of right now. I think it would be nice for me to work with Busy one more time. I really want to visit Jamaica and do some work. I have never been to Jamaica but I got lots of messages after Busy dropped his video. I got messages from Jamaican artists telling me to come down there because they would like to work with me in Jamaica.
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