With an impressive videography reel that features pulsating moments captured from concerts of the likes of Wizkid, Rema and Davido to mention a few, US-based Nigerian cinematographer, Aaron Lawson, has only just started his mission to document afrobeats concerts in the diaspora…
PAY ATTENTION: Сheck out news that is picked exactly for YOU ➡️ find the “Recommended for you” block on the home page and enjoy!
“I just never really liked the system of school,” 20-year-old Lawson stressed as we kicked off our chat on a Monday afternoon in October.
The young creative was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and spent a portion of his childhood in the country before relocating to the United States of America (USA) when he was eleven.
Lawson recalls attending a boarding school and basically enjoying a regular childhood.
“I’ll say my childhood was kind of cool you know. Played soccer outside every day in the backyard. School was fun even though I wasn’t really like a school person. I went to boarding school. Did that for JSS1 and 2, but yeah, I just never really liked the system of school…”
PAY ATTENTION: Join Legit.ng Telegram channel! Never miss important updates!
How it all started
Although somewhat hard to believe that his love for the camera wasn’t self-motivated, Lawson admitted that his elder brother had a role to play in fanning the flames of his interest.
“My brother is a full-time cinematographer. He was focusing on weddings at the time and he just asked me one day if I wanted to learn how to edit and I was like ‘no problem bro’. So then I started to learn how to edit and started to edit for him. From editing, I wanted to learn how to shoot just like him.”
At the time, he would join his brother to attend wedding ceremonies and film precious moments of those who were exchanging vows and family members who had come out to celebrate with them.
“I wanted to be on the set, I wanted to go to the weddings with him. I did a couple of weddings with him and I really liked weddings at the time. That was my first year doing this. We did a lot of Nigerian weddings back in those days, so I’ll say we pretty much grew together in the business,” he recounts.
However, he would eventually realize that filming weddings wasn’t really his area of interest. This realization led Lawson to pitch his tent in the confines of the concert scenes. Call it luck or opportunity, but Lawson’s first concert was that of the much-acclaimed afrobeats singer, Davido.
“Later on, I realized that weddings weren’t really my thing because I really didn’t even like that space. The more I started to shoot more things, the more I started to find my space and what I like to shoot. That was when I figured out I enjoy shooting concerts and I’ve really just been hustling since then. My first was Davido’s concert but my first paid concert was Rema’s. That was when I was like, yeah, low key I can actually do this and make money from it.”
A visit to the Dallas-based cinematographer’s Instagram page greets visitors with a plethora of rich, engaging well-shot concert videos of Nigerian artistes in the diaspora.
For Lawson, apart from whipping out his camera and filming concerts, the experience of his viewers and how they engage with his videos drives a major part of his editing process.
“I want it to be at a point where it is high of emotions and then it goes low, then it goes slow and then it goes high again. I see all my edits as a rollercoaster in the sense that it takes the viewer through a journey of what happened in the event or the concert.”
“Another thing that I'm really big on is my music. The reason that these artistes are able to sell-out venues in cities and states they are not from is that they create good sound. So how am I using a good sound to create a good edit is what I really focus on. I also work on my pre-production. Deeply listening to the artistes’ music and finding songs that nobody knows or finding beats that the musician has done, and just working with those sound effects.”
Amid it all, the cinematographer doesn’t deny the hands of God in directing his decisions whenever he picks up a camera to film.
“I always feel God's blessing on me because really, I'm just a full-time cinematographer. It’s crazy to see all the hard work I've put into this. This is all I do and it’s been only God. Whenever I’m about to get in the mode, I’m always really focused. Everyone around mentions how they see me smile without a camera but have no idea what’s going on in my head when I’m with one.
"Whenever I’m in the zone, I'm just thinking of ideas and shots. ‘If I capture something this way, how can I transition it to another way?’ What's a way that we can do a shot that will make it easy on the edit?’ Those are really the thoughts going through my head. Like, how can I use the song that this artiste sang at this time that was very emotional to tell the story of the concert.”
Positive outcome for afrobeats
Taking a trip down memory lane and remembering his arrival in America, Lawson recounts how Africans were seen as second-class citizens and were called “African booty scratchers”.
He, however, agrees that the growing impact of afrobeats has changed the narrative about how people from the African continent are perceived.
“I went to school in Nigeria and I also did a little bit of school in America which was from 8th grade till 12th grade. When I came to school in America, Africans were seen as…Literally, they used to call us the ‘African booty scratcher". Like, it was bad. If you are from Africa and you are just coming in, they were asking the most outrageous questions. Like ‘do you have cheetahs in your house?’ These were actual questions Americans asked. So now, seeing the way things are…For instance, we have Burna boy whose Last Last is doing really well. We have Peru by Fireboy equally doing well…all of these are now making Americans see Africans as regular people.”
With the positively altered perception of Africans, the 20-year-old creative maintains that he has a duty of properly documenting and telling the stories of afrobeats singers who are equally on the road to global domination.
“My job with the camera is to make sure that we have an amazing time with the concerts too. We go crazy. When Rema is on stage performing, he puts the energy down. When Flavour comes on stage whining his waist…that’s the energy you know. I’ll say Afrobeat is rising at a rapid rate. I was driving down in Houston some weeks ago and I was hearing Rema’s song…that is so crazy.
“We also have Wizkid’s music playing on the radio now. So with the way afrobeat is growing, the concerts are getting a lot more. So it is very important to me to tell the stories of these artists that are just coming here for the first time. Like, Bella Shmurda, his first show in Dallas, those are monumental moments in these artistes’ lives. There’s a documentary of Kanye on Netflix and it’s pretty much just following the journey of his life to where he is now.
"I think all afrobeats artistes who are doing really well deserve something similar to that. Just having a memory of that is very important. So I always make sure that I try my best to tell the story of what happened that day. Afrobeats is here, and it’s here to stay.”
Staying in touch with the roots
Although based in the diaspora, Lawson keeps up with the creative scene in Nigeria and particularly enjoys the work of avant-garde cinematographer, TG Omori, amongst others.
“I'm a big fan of TG Omori. Thanks to Poco Lee, we had the opportunity to talk and work. Whenever I was in Atlanta, we would link up and talk. Mehn, that man's brain is something else. It's like his ideas are too crazy. Personally, I don't see myself doing music videos because that isn't really how I like to tell a story. I’ve done a couple in my lifetime, but they're not my forte.
"I like the concert scene. But I’ll say I get a lot of inspiration from TG. His transition styles and all that. There's another guy based out in Atlanta but he travels a lot. This is like my personal guy, his name is Nelson. This guy is too cold and he’s one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to concert and stuff like that.”
Aaron Lawson's impressive portfolio
With just about six years of experience, Lawson already boasts of an impressive portfolio that includes his works with the likes of Davido, Wizkid, Rema, Bella Shmurda, and Fireboy DML, among other top afrobeats stars.
He, however, admits that it wasn’t a feat that came easy, especially since these artistes are only looking to engage the best of the best when they are in the diaspora.
“The most challenging part for me pretty much was in the beginning. When you first start out, you don’t have a portfolio and even if you do, you don't have a really good portfolio that speaks to these artistes. They are coming from the likes of TG Omori, they’ve seen his videos, they’ve seen great content and they want to keep up that standard whether they are in Nigeria or out of the country. Even when they come here, they expect better content.
"So in the beginning stages, when you don’t have that better content yet, it’s very hard finding connections and finding people to get you in rooms or just having somebody believe in your skill. Luckily for me, a lot of people believed, saw what I can do and just gave me an opportunity. For that, I’m forever grateful and it has really gotten me to keep going because two years ago, I was like ‘what If I was just shooting concerts’, and two years ago me would be very proud of myself right now and everything that I’ve accomplished."
The cinematographer who has a close-knit relationship with indigenous musician, Flavour, highlights going on tour with him as one of his favourite experiences on the job so far.
"Mehn, that guy is super talented and he makes my job very easy. His performance skills are crazy. We got the chance to really grow a relationship and I got a lot of advice from him on how to go forward. There were times he would invite me over to his place and we would just be discussing. I’m a big learner and I love to learn from people who have experienced things. So I’ll say Flavour was really great in responding to me, texting and checking up on me. That has been a very great experience."
Burna Boy's mum steals the show at his concert in SA
Meanwhile, Legit.ng reported that singer Burna Boy's mum, Bose Ogulu, was a delight to watch at his concert in South Africa.
The momager appeared to be having the time of her life as she showed off some energetic moves during her son's performance.
Netizens couldn't help but gush over Burna's mother.