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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Video: Love, Against Homophobia

By Musa Okwonga

About a year ago, a schoolfriend (Giles Hayter) and I formed The King's Will, with the idea that Giles - an acclaimed painter, producer, composer and mathematician - would set my poetry to his music. (Since what we were doing didn't sound like much else out there at the time, we called our genre of music "poetronica".) We decided to tackle themes that moved us most in our professional and personal lives - anything from climate change and homophobia to being trapped in a job we hated - and thought that, since the project was a conceptual one, we should work with animators to bring each track out in full visual detail.

"Love, Against Homophobia", one of our first videos - directed by the genius Jae Hwang - actually began life as a poem I'd written about eighteen months before, on returning from a holiday in Amsterdam to read of the rape and murder of a gay rights activist, the South African lesbian Eudy Simelane. My parents hailed from Uganda, where the levels of homophobia are currently toxic, and I have long been aware that life there as a gay or bisexual man (the latter of which I am) would have been incalculably harder. Simelane's violent death brought that home to me on a visceral level, and I wrote this piece in anguish and solidarity.

Over a year later, when we formed The King's Will, Giles saw this piece and had me recite it a capella, with all the defiance that had gone into its creation. He then built an ambient backdrop for my vocal, which in its closing bars expanded into something like a declaration of war on bigotry. The music was Giles' hallmark: deceptively simple, and therefore both powerful and enduring. I was immediately sold on this, and our task then was to find the right artist to bring it to visual life.

We placed an advertisement online, offering payment for the work, and we were fortunate enough to hear from Jae Hwang. Jae's exceptional talent, it turned out, was surpassed only by his modesty. He shared with us some initial thoughts on the project, about how he wanted to have the voice booming from a set of speakers as the song developed. We loved his ideas, and so left him to it, excited to see what he would produce.

Needless to say, when we saw the results a few months later, we were astonished. Jae had produced, in my view, a timeless piece of work. For years, I had hoped to produce a piece of art that was a powerful opponent to the countless anti-gay songs that are churned out by cruel or ignorant musicians the world over, and now I believed that Giles, Jae and I had worked to create one: one which could be a source of strength to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people the world over. We hope that you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.

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