The music video for ‘Holy Oxygen’, Okmalumkoolkat‘s latest single, opens with the words of Mother Theresa: “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody”. In the footage that follows, we see Okmalumkoolkat’s Smiso Zwane as part of an alienated society who are under quarantine because of illness or social dysfunction. Discontent with their status as outsiders, the plastic-wrapped roamers journey out of the gritty wasteland to form an asylum where everyone is equally accepted.
Picture Tree‘s Wim Steytler directed the video, whose trademark style merges a documentary approach with surreal imagery. “I am very interested in creating a body of work that isn’t afraid of putting society’s most pressing social issues into a context of popular culture,” Wim says. This, he believes, is a great way to open up a dialogue about topics that are sometimes uncomfortable – especially amongst the youth. Okmalumkoolkat’s lyrics often touch on abandonment and redemption, and the video’s narrative forms a thoughtful continuation of these themes. At one point in ‘Holy Oxygen’, Smiso says “Why do you think I’m rapping? / You don’t know what happened / I was never happy when my father left me / Left me as a baby way back in the 80s”.
The visual aspect of the video came together through Okmalumkoolkat’s graphic design, which reimagines the “African aesthetic”, in combination with styling by conceptual design duo Jana + Koos and Wim’s immersive approach to filmmaking. Wim shot a lot of ‘Holy Oxygen’ himself, on solo trips to the locations he found: an abandoned sewerage farm near Soweto, a mine dump and a forest of invasive Eucalyptus trees. Many of the elements incorporated were found during these trips and the ideas (such as wrapping people in plastic) came about quite spontaneously. A glimpse into a strange world with burning bushes and loose plastic flying around like UFOs, “the video is very much a stylised documentary,” says Wim. “I’m really hopeful that it will do the work of helping take one of South Africa’s most talented artists to the world.”
Director: Wim Steytler
Cinematography: Wim Steytler and Peter Tischhauser
Editor: Marcelle Mouton (Deepend Post Production)
Stylists: Jana + Koos
Fixer: Kenosi Dlamini
Production Manager: Jacqui Buthelezi
Producer: Johnny Mabeba
Executive Producer: Gary King
Production Company: Picture Tree