The song Wunga is perhaps the strangest track on Durban/Johannesburg hip-hop group BIG FKN GUN (BFG) album Pop Models.
As the follow-up to the sleek title-track, the video sees the group ditch the setting of a club for a tour down Johannesburg’s streets as our protagonist, a “junkie” (artist EvlJon) wanders aimlessly around bruising for his next fix of the drug cocktail Wunga while haunted by the rapper Sol (who appears to represent the addiction).
Wunga, also known as Nyaope is a mixture of weed, heroin and HIV medication. Wunga, the song, is ostensibly about the effects of the cocktail drug turning township youths into zombies, but what you get, instead, is Sol taking on the properties of the drug as he injects all manner of boasts into your bloodstream.
The drawn out, swishy synth lines, thundering toms and well-placed taunts of “fak’ ugesi” complement the junkie’s demise in a way some might argue is a rather flippant treatment of a real epidemic that is debilitating communities in South Africa.
Unveiled some weeks ago at the Alex Theatre, this gritty, stylized piece of film drew some blank stares from the audience, partly because it’s a departure from the standard fare of rap videos on offer these days. Instead of long twerking shots, you get extended shots of simulated drug use of a substance that is hard to glamourise.
We spoke to BFG about the concept behind the video, which you can take a hit below:
What was your approach in shooting the video to the song?
We wanted to approach the visual from the perspective of a Wunga user, to explore their day-to-day experience with the drug and how it impacts on that person’s life. Director Ravi Govender and Zamani Xolo (from Dirty Paraffin) came up with a treatment that we felt was strong enough to carry the visual so we went with it.
Sol’s direct references to the actual drug and its effect are marginal, except that he compares his rhyming style to the effects of Wunga? Did that play into what you guys tried to do with the video?
Definitely. Sol talks indirectly to the effects a drug would have in his writing for the song, direct enough to be a metaphor, but indirect enough to be detached from the concept. In the visual you see two characters, the main character is the addict and the support character (played by Sol) is a drug dealing apparition, the addict’s imagination. The craving for the drug creates the atmosphere for him to almost imagine himself getting his next fix in desperation – to such an extent that he himself becomes the dealer. There is another side of the story that the dealer tells, but I wont spoil it for those who haven’t seen it.
Is there a correlation between Sol’s references to Wunga versus your concern about what the drug is doing to communities – communities like the one Sol is from?
To a large extent, yes, there is. The song itself was never meant as a social commentary piece on the matter, although indirectly hints at it vaguely, but to ignore the destruction that the drug is causing in South Africa would be dangerous. It’s a double entendre we value as artists: to express a deeper message without seeming to. The song ultimately is a party song.
Interestingly, you quote lines from the BBC, Al-Jazeera and Sky News. Can you explain the rationale behind that?
Well there was an intention to say that if this drug can be so harmful to South Africa that even international news broadcasters would notice, it means we have a serious problem: One that needs political will and action. We could have quoted the SABC or eTV but the effect would have been different in our opinion. It’s like that “We have a problem Houston” moment in Apollo 13.
How important is the video for the modern day rapper, and what approach, in general do you go for in knocking out videos for the group?
Video’s could make or break a concept, a song. To us the approach is to angle it from a film perspective – to tell a story. I think that was the purpose of making videos in the first place, to show what the words can’t express. But not to conclude the story. We try and leave something for the imagination because the story has to continue with the viewer somehow.
The Pop Models video was literal, in a way, but avoided being obvious. Also, how do you keep the costs down and emerge with a product you can still be proud of?
With Pop Models the intention was to be literal without being cheesy I suppose. Soulfaktor directed and edited that visual, and having come from a background of working in film it was really easy for him to create a visual that we could be proud of with minimal budget.
What have been some of the more interesting responses to the video thus far?
There have been some really positive responses. We were surprised to see how many people actually knew what Wunga was. But what was most positive to me is that no one saw the visual as promoting drug taking, as there is a lot of simulation of drug behavior. I was worried that the interpretation would be exactly that.
What are your thoughts on music videos in South Africa, particularly in what we can generally call hip-hop? Who do you think is doing great work in terms of breaking new ground? Do you always try to go against the grain?
I’m not sure if we are going against the grain by telling stories. I think everyone has a story to tell and they choose to tell those stories. We happened to have one, and we were brave enough to tell it without trying to polish it in any way or form. Like I said, the song is actually a party song, but the contrast and tension created by Sol’s writing provided a platform for more levels of a story, so in a way it was kinda obvious, to us at least, which way the visual needed to go. We try and use that instinctive thinking when it comes to treatment of our work in general. If that is going against the grain then that’s an outward interpretation. We think Dirty Paraffin and The Brother Moves On are doing great work, there are countless others but we’ll go with those two bands for now. I think there is a storm brewing, in-fact it’s beyond brewing mode. It’s only a matter of time really.
Main Picture: Screen shot from the Wunga music video