See This Black Poet's Searing Invocation of Love for a World Gripped by Hate

Sekou Andrews cuts to the heart of the matter

Maybe the first thing we can do
To prevent 'I can't breathe'
Is to let love be the first act
That takes our breath away.

Grammy-nominated spoken-word poet Sekou Andrews wrote those lines in "Love Says" months before George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, lost his life two weeks ago beneath the knee of a white police officer during an arrest in Minneapolis.

As he died, lips pressed against the pavement, Floyd famously told the cops that he couldn't breathe—an all too common and tragic utterance from black men brutalized and killed by law enforcement.

"Love Says" just dropped as the third single from Andrews's album Sekou Andrews & The String Theory. The artist appears in this stylish monochrome video, which slowly builds to a powerhouse climax:

The complex, upsetting symbolism of white sheets conjures notions of morgues, the Klan and dreams deferred. Such imagery combines with Andrews' stirring verse and desperate gasps to elevate the film. It plays like a piece of visual poetry, open to many interpretations.

Mischa Meyer of Spot Welders directed the five-minute clip, which was shot by Maz Makani. Optimist and Akkurat Studios partnered on production.

Exploring the eternally, impossibly thin line between love and hate, Andrews' suggests:

Love says some stupid stuff sometimes.
Like, Love says: Love will set you free.
Love says: Love makes the world go round.
Love says: Love conquers all.
I mean can you believe the ego on this emotion?

...And all of this has brought me
To the uncanny conclusion that Love is a hater.
And to that, Love says:
You are absolutely right.

Here, Andrews' thin line turns uncomfortably, bitingly blue:

Love says: There is no such thing as a hate crime,
There are only love crimes mangled into hate crimes.

The cop who hates crime
Suffocates an unarmed man
For the LOVE of safety.

In the end, the poet draws his own conclusions, inviting listeners to do likewise:

And maybe that is all love is really saying:
Come find me, even when you have everything to lose
Come find me, in the open palm of your enemy
Until you discover an unfathomable friend
In that sacred, cease-fire of space
Between black and white…

To stare into each other's eyes long enough
To recognize our humanity
And allow our heartbeats to sync
To silence the fight in us
Long enough to fight the silence in us
Until we, each of us,
Can finally hear what Love says.

Through the years, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Gil-Scott Heron and other black poets have put passionate spins on race relations and social justice, crafting verses that speak from the soul about truths not always so self-evident. Amid today's upheaval and unrest, Andrews and writers like Kofi Dadzie and Zack Browne play similar roles.

Muse chatted with director Mischa Meyer about the film:

Muse: Is this your first work with Sekou?

Mischa Meyer: This is the first time working with Sekou for me. I did a music video/documentary about Krump dancing in South Central L.A. a few years ago for two musician friends of mine. They are the [music] composers and producers of this piece and reached out to me, asking if I'd be interested in making a video.

What sort of mood were you aiming for?

In the beginning there were conversations about using more of the space—a techno-crane for fancier camera moves—but I felt it was just about the man and his words. That's why I wanted it to be simple. That's why we stripped out the color, too. The vibe I wanted to bring across was making you feel comforted when he's talking about love in the best sense, and disturbed when he's talking about more traumatic subjects like "I can't breathe."

Did you make changes in the wake of George Floyd's death?

The music was recorded over a year ago, and we had shot this mid-March, a day before lockdown. Originally these words were reflecting on the death of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by police in New York, saying "I can't breathe" 11 times before losing consciousness. So, that was already in there. This is something, a real issue, that unfortunately has been all too common in this country, which the whole world can see now.

Can you talk about making the video—your process?

The preparation for the projection was a lot of work. I know it looks simple, but the creatives at Optimist, together with the people at VTPro, put a lot of effort into getting the words and timing right. Toygar Bazarkaya, the creative director, and I sat down numerous times to figure out which words were the most important to emphasize. The original piece of music is almost eight minutes long, so I made multiple audio edits upfront for us to nail the most important lyrics and get to a feasible length. On set, we mostly just stripped down everything even more. We only had one 10-hour day to shoot, which I think helped in making it even more simple. 

How'd you set up that intense ending?

We started with Sekou being calm and did more understated takes first, and then the more aggressive and intimate takes later on. So it was towards the very end of the day when we pulled the white sheet over his body and had him waking up choking. That's where everybody in the room took a big swallow. You could feel it.

Even before, when we had a lunch break, we all sat in a big circle and everybody from grip to gaffer was commenting on how powerful these words resonated with them. And Sekou did a great job delivering these words. He cried in a few takes towards the end, as you can see. That was just his emotions pouring out. I never directed him towards that. Ultimately, that's the honesty I wanted.

It's obviously an especially resonant project considering recent events—with a hopeful message.

People are fighting for basic human rights that every person should have, no matter their skin color or ethnicity. So pushing a message of love out there in these times feels really important to us.

When folks see the video, what do you hope they think or feel? Any actions you'd like them to take?

I hope this can give hope and guidance on how we get to a better and more understanding place ... to better understand each other and find compassionate solutions to all these problems. Sekou has been donating to Color of Change for years … We would love for people to take action and help by donating at www.colorofchange.org.

Here's the full text of Andrews' poem:
 

LOVE SAYS Lyrics (Video Version)

Love says / some stupid stuff sometimes.

Like, Love says: Love will set you free
Love says: Love makes the world go round
Love says: Love conquers all
I mean can you believe the ego on this emotion?

All these attacks, all this malice
So much injustice in the world
While Love was barely helpful
During the break up with my last girl

Love says / hateful stuff, like:
"If you Love something, let it go.
If it doesn't return, it was never yours to begin with."

Love says / harmful stuff, like:
"No, you're not too drunk.
Go ahead and text her."

And all of this has brought me
To the uncanny conclusion,
That Love
Is a hater

And to that,
Love says: You are absolutely right

Love says: There is no such thing as a hate crime
There are only Love crimes
Mangled into hate crimes

The cop who hates crime,
Suffocates an unarmed man
For the LOVE of safety

The crip who hates bloods,
Splatters it across a playground
For the LOVE of gang

The terrorist who hates blacks
Bombs a church for the LOVE of race
A school bully who hates an abusive mother
Smashes a classmate's skull into a bathroom mirror
To earn the LOVE of that abusive mother,
And grows up seeking that reflection of LOVE
From abusive lovers,
And perpetuates the spread
Of this abuse to others
Until it almost seems impossible
For two people to discover
LOVE across their otherness
And find one another

And suddenly
I feel two lips
Press electricity into the back of my neck
And I turn / to see her standing there

I am reminded
Of a study I read once
That found if two people gaze into each other's eyes
For long enough their heart rate will start to synchronize
This is why Love says / it has always been
Both the cause of every war
AND the reason for every truce

And maybe that is all Love is really saying
Come find me / even when you have everything to lose
Come find me / in the open palm of your enemy
Until you discover an unfathomable friend
In that sacred, cease-fire of space
Between black and white
Between white and Puerto Rican
Between patriot and immigrant
Muslim and Montague
Liberals and Krupkes
Conservatives and capulets
And crips and jets
And queers and vets

Maybe what we have to do
To prevent "Fight the power!"
And "We shall overcome!"
And "Si se puede!"
"Hell No! We won't go!"
And "I can't breathe!"

(I can't breathe)

Maybe the first thing we can do
To prevent "I can't breathe"
Is to let Love be the first act
That takes our breath away
To stare into each others' eyes long enough
To recognize our humanity
And allow our heartbeats to sync
To silence the fight in us
Long enough to fight the silence in us
Until we, each of us,
Can finally hear what
Love says

 
CREDITS

"Love Says" Credits

Written & Performed by
Sekou Andrews & The String Theory

An Optimist Studios & AKKURAT Studios Production

Directed & Edited by
Mischa Meyer

Chief Creative Officer
Toygar Bazarkaya

Executive Producers
Juergen Dold
Rocco Kopecny

Managing Director
Andreas Roth

Label
California Music

Director of Photography
Maz Makhani

Optimist Crew  
Zac Blakeley: Production Director
Hugo Jacome: Producer           
Sam Hinkley: Associate Producer
Brock Fansler: Technical Director
Cameron Brainard: Studio Director             
Spencer Klinge: Studio Manager 

Crew 
Daniel Ajemian: 1st AC    
Chris Marius Jones: 2nd AC         
Scott Moody: Gaffer  
William Gunn: Best Boy 
Nick Mcfarland: Electrician
Stephen Paar: Electrician
Charles Lens: Key Grip
Matthew King: Best Boy  
Will Tully: Grip     
"Speedy" Taylor: Exec. Assistant         

Make-up
Stacy Andrews

Design & Art Direction 
Tom Holmberg 
Toygar Bazarkaya 

Color: Blacksmith
Mikey Pehanich: Supervising Colorist

VFX:  SHIPPING + HANDLING
Jerry Spivack: Lead Compositor
Dustin Laforce: Producer

Editorial
Spot Welders

VT PRO: Projection 
Vartan Tchekmedyian: CEO     
Michael Fullman: CCO
Zac Layman: Projection Mapping         
Michael Lee: Producer
Art Perez: Animation

Poetry by
Sekou Andrews

Music Composed by
PC Nackt
Ben Lauber

Music Produced by
Kristian Nord: California Music  
Malte Hagemeister: California Music          
PC Nackt: The String Theory  
Ben Lauber: The String Theory
Sebastian Gäbel: The String Theory
Sekou Andrews: Sekou World Inc 

Special Thanks to
Tino Schaedler
Rose Odeh

Profile picture for user David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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