Last month I was invited to DJ a very cool music video shoot by Director Jennifer DeLia and Producer Julie Pacino. The song is created by the genius African duo, Amadou & Mariam with a collaboration by TV on the Radio’s Kyp and Tunde. Filmed at The Box (NYC), it was the party of parties I must admit…

After the official band performance held at New York’s chic spot, The Box (which was a smashing success), I stopped to ask Jennifer DeLia a few questions about the song, her interpretation as a Director, and some childhood inspirations.

Jauretsi: Congrats on your new video for Amadou & Mariam and TVOTR. How did these 2 powerhouse groups get together to collaborate on a song, and what is the meaning of the song as explained to you?

Jennifer Delia: Amadou & Mariam came to New York to record their song with Santigold and Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Nick is very good friends with TVOTR. Nick mentioned that TVOTR had recently recorded with Tinariwen, an artist from Africa. A&M were familiar with TVOTR and were interested in collaborating with them so Nick put them in touch.

When A & M met with Kyp and Tunde, there was an immediate connection. They all discussed the song and it’s meaning which inspired Kyp & Tunde to write their portion of Wily Kataso. A&M responded very well to the sound and lyrics that Kyp/Tunde had come up with so they decided to record the track and were thrilled with the outcome.

The meaning of the song was never actually explained to me but I interpreted as …
being present to the moment, letting go of facade, getting back to whats real, like family, and good energy… in other words, dissolution of ego.

Now lets talk about the video, this is where you came in. Can you you give us a brief walk through the narrative and your interpretation of the song with your plot?

The video itself is not narrative-heavy at all, however, there is a subtle thru-line. We start the video in The Shrine in Harlem where Amadou and Mariam are on a small stage in front of an intimate crowd– history and culture emanating from its pores as The Shrine is the home of blues, jazz, and African beats. The feeling is comfortable and familial and shows A&M’s connectedness to the people.

In a raw space in Nolita, we captured some dancers who start off sitting in a meditation circle. Identical to the rhythm of the track, the silhouetted dancers keep us moving by creating abstract transitions that seem almost like paintings in motion.

Our main location that took up most of our shoot was the cabaret venue, The Box, which plays as a dream. One world bleeds into another — The Shrine bleeds into The Box. The real world meets the dream world. Thoughts and ideas become one stream of consciousness rather than fragments. The Shrine is comfort and family….The Box is heightened awareness like a utopia. The whole experience a meditation (letting go).

There’s a girl who enters the Box wearing a colorful beaded mask which represents the entrance into the other world… in this world you meet Kyp and Tunde from TVOTR….. the masks represent a TRANSFORMATION as people shed layers or in others words, their ego. We see the 2 bands perform together to approximately 100 people. We also see them drift into other dreamy scenarios as they sing the words “you’ve said your piece, now go back home.” In essence, this video is about the bridging of cultures, amazing energy, and what it feels like to truly be present.

What is your own story with filmmaking? When did you first fall in love with film and what moved you to decide to dedicate your life to this?

I truly truly feel like I came out of the womb in love with this medium. My earliest memories are of the worlds I’d imagine … and then the journals I started writing in around the age of 7 which were elaborations of these worlds. I escaped into these worlds as much as possible. Looking back, it feels as if I was always floating between dimensions. I couldn’t wait to hit the ground running and actually get out of my childhood in Kansas and start to execute actually creating and producing. I was not a kid running around with a camera shooting little movies, which is also a beautiful thing. I was more of a dreamer, and on the flip side, intrigued by the business side of things, feeling like I couldn’t manifest my dreams unless I knew the business so I did just that — kept on dreaming and learned the business.

I started working in production when I was fresh out of high school as an assistant on sets in LA and Arizona, and New York, anywhere that would take me. The more I worked for other people, the more hungry I became, and the more empowered as well, as relationships and hard lessons were acquired. I also studied acting intensively at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York… 11 years after high school, all these experiences came to a head when I directed for the first time (in 2008) and was absolutely 100% bit by the bug, which was a total confirmation of what I always knew.

Tell me about your producing partner, Julie Pacino, and how you 2 kindred spirits found eachother? What other projects do you have in the cooker and what can we expect to see from you ladies?

I directed my first feature, Billy Bates, which we’ve just recently finished. I was in the midst of shooting the Austin portion of the project when I met Julie…. actually in Austin. I was subletting a room from a guy who owned a sandwich shop on the campus of UT and Julie just happened to be a regular customer, being a lover of New York style sandwiches. One day the owner said that Julie left her number on a napkin for me, based on this guy telling her that I was in town shooting. Being someone whose gotten to where I am somewhat because of cool people helping me to connect the dots, I went ahead and called her. I had no idea Julie was 19 at that time but to my surprise, we developed a very sweet connection, and by the time she shared her writing with me, I knew how smart, talented, and driven she was. We took it slow, just meeting for coffee from time to time….and I hate being the one to say this but its true: she reminded me of myself…and not in terms of her personality, as she’s her own person and so grounded in that way and was even at 19. She reminded me of me, in that she wanted, in a very serious way, to do things on her own, to really learn, and to find herself and her creative voice on her own terms. She wasn’t sure about film school and she was sort of hanging out in Austin where she had some family, as she dropped her softball scholarship at UCLA after they told her that she couldn’t major in film. Long story short, we decided to produce a short script that she wrote, to see how we worked together. We did that for her to direct, which I produced and acted in. It played at some international festivals, we had a blast, and decided to carry on. Billy Bates needed more support and Julie wanted to learn producing hands-on so the rest is history. Our ten year gap has been a blessing, both having our fingers on different pulses and respecting each other’s perspectives. To put this in a time frame, we met in February 2009.

Next projects for our company (Poverty Row Entertainment) is a second feature which I will direct and Julie will produce later this year. Its like American Beauty meets Trainspotting if you can imagine that. We also have the rights to a very exciting true story about someone who gave birth to Hollywood and cinema as we know it… a female at that.

If you had to name top 3 directors that changed your life, who would they be?

That’s pretty hard to say as I don’t peg any films or filmmakers as changing my life…. not because I’m against the idea of that… it’s just because I was never really a film buff… again, it was more about the worlds I created in my own imagination as if I would rather fantasize and write than actually watch films, although I do love films and one of my favorites is Lolita by Kubrick. Darren Aronofsky was inspiring because of the risks he was willing to take as a new filmmaker… and then there’s some French cinema and also Bertolucci like The Dreamers. I think it’s awesome to see filmmakers create something that feels authentic whether it appeals to people or not.

Growing up in the MTV era, which music video would you say arrested you and made you realize the power of short visual narrative?

Michael Jackson’s Thriller is an easy one to remember but other than that, it’s hard to recall as again, I was more self-consumed, than media-consumed growing up but lately, I’m not gonna lie, I love Britney Spears Til the World Ends. I did work at MTV News as a Production Coordinator in 2003 and it was cool to meet all the relevant artists as it was my job to set up shoots and interviews for them…Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Britney, you name it. Also, one of my first internships when I was 18 was for VH1′s show Top 100 Albums of Rock’n’Roll so I got to spend months going through archives and transcribing interviews with everyone from Stevie Nicks, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell you name it — all from back in the day — and that was beyond inspiring on so many levels as I was really able to put together a diagram in my head of how we got to the point we were at in music and even socially, being in the early 2000′s.

When is this A&M and TVOTR song and album being released, and where will it be available?

This one track is released March 21st (today) and the album, another single that A&M did with Santigold will come out too. The album, though, is supposed to be released April 2nd. Itunes and Amazon.

Was there any interesting dialogue in the dressing room with A&M and Tunde/Kyp? They both seemed like such sweethearts and incredibly complex artists. What was it like putting them all together before the show started?

It was AWESOME. I got to work with A&M throughout the week on their wardrobe and had a day of shooting with just them and I developed a really sweet connection with them. They have a very hip sense of humor and Mariam is SO opinionated while Amadou has a permanent smile on his face. The 2 bands together was sort of epic …. A&M are basically African royalty and super-known around the world, especially in Europe and Africa. TVOTR is so loved and adored also all over, but in New York — my gosh– people are crazy about them. All four artists are so humble and interested in people and just cool. It was a breeze to communicate with all of them and everyone really had a great time. In the dressing room, there was some funny banter. Mariam wanted badly to keep her super-expensive clothing that designers had lent to us. It was a different style for her and she loved it. I was thrilled that she loved it, but sadly, she couldn’t keep it but she definitely gets an A for effort. The TV guys were cracking jokes too…. the vibe was very light.

As far as complex artists, yes! They are. A&M are both blind but clearly see so much. It’s amazing to watch them channel what’s going on around them. They are also so adorable, you just want to put them in your back pocket. TVOTR, if you know their music and visuals, are like mad scientists, brilliant but again so down to earth.

In terms of the show, the whole crowd was on such a high as the room cooked slowly before the big performance. Can you share with the readers the energy in the room, and the reason you chose to record a live show for this video?

The energy was super-heightened. There are a few reasons we did the live show. One, for the concept of the video– to create a real utopia, not a manufactured one. We knew the love that would radiate from these artists and that whether people knew them or not, they’d feed off that, plus The Box is sexy and colorful and it was going to make for a great party. Also, the live show was a great way to give back to everyone that worked so hard for 2 days and all the extras — we had no problem keeping everyone there given they’d get to see the show. By the time the show started, everyone who was working was so relaxed and comfortable and excited. The crowd that came in just for the live show was vibing off that and giving it right back. There was a warm familial yet dreamy and provocative vibe with the colors of the space and the movement from the crowd. We had people wearing masks in the crowd too so the idea of transcending ego and being present was represented that way. A lot of people were introduced to these artists and their music for the first time which was also great for the band being that the album is about to drop. I think for everyone all around, it was the thing to do and absolutely for sure, for the video. There’s no doubt from watching the final cut, that this is a party you want to be at and that this is a moment you’d love to experience.

And of course your DJ set kicked it off, which was THE BEST way to start the night!

Thank you! I enjoyed getting the room dancing beforehand. It was a joyful crowd indeed. This is your first directorial music video, after a long history of producing, can we expect more music videos from you in the future?

Definitely. I did one other video which was a simple love song for a singer/songwriter which was not nearly the scope of the video we’re talking about here. After doing a feature film, it’s cool to do a short piece to music– something creative and beautiful and that really gives to people. I will do more for sure.

(Director Jennifer DeLia on set)

All still photos by Chimodu