Inside WeTransfer's Latest Creative Pair: Director Emmanuel Adjei and Singer Sevdaliza

The making of the 'Shahmaran' music video

WeTransfer has been supporting creative collaborations for some time, through efforts like its "Work in Progress" series. Here's the latest pair of artists that the file-sharing brand has embraced—director Emmanuel Adjei and singer Sevdaliza, who've released a stunning music video called "Shahmaran," which explores weighty issues of love, power and the misrepresentation of freedom. 

Adjei, a Ghanaian director, supplied the story—and Sevdaliza, an Iranian-Dutch singer provided the music (and stars in the piece). The video expresses Adjei's vision of the black man continuing life in a cycle of oppression—aspiring to "decadence, power and success that create a false sense of autonomy and freedom," according to the director. 

The piece was produced by three companies: Compulsory, Handsome, Halal. Muse spoke to Adjei about the collaboration with Sevdaliza, and the piece in general. 

How long have you known Sevdaliza, and when did you first have the idea to collaborate?
I have known Sevdaliza around four years or so. The first time I met her was after one of her shows. But I've felt a connection to her from the first time I listened to her music. Funnily enough, my introduction to her music was with the earliest version of Shahmaran—which wasn't even Shahmaran back then. 

There was something about her work I found so magical. I instantly knew I wanted to collaborate with her, and when I reached out after her show, we connected on a very deep level. It was almost as if we knew each other from a previous life, spiritually and creatively. It sounds a bit cliché, but artistically it was a creative marriage bound to happen. 

As soon as we started to ping-pong ideas back and forth, we realized that we share much of the same creative vision and interest. Our artistic relationship grew organically—we challenge, support and complement each other on so many levels. I think what really made us click initially was that we both had a feeling of being in a sort of survival state as artists. We realized that our voices could be stronger together, reinforce and elevate each other. 

Collaboration can be difficult when two artists both have strong visions. How did you approach the creative vision of this video, and how did you overcome any differences you had?
We both have strong visions, for sure. But our previous projects together taught us a lot on how far we can push each other. They are all essential pieces in the puzzle that enabled us to bring to life the vision of Shahmaran.

Our first project was my short film The Formula in 2016. I directed it, she wrote the soundtrack and plays the main character. Our second project was Human, also in 2016, a music video for Sevdaliza as an artist which I directed. And all along, Shahmaran was a work in progress. As our relationship grew, and we gave each other space to explore our artistic bond with altering people in the driver's seat, we could really see the potential of a bigger project. A project that would push us both artistically, focusing on quality over quantity. 

We took the time to let our visions blend for this project. It's almost three years in the making. And all the people involved were part of driving that vision. It felt like we were all on a mission, and had our troops, to give life to this concept. There was a lot of trust, mutual respect and faith. And perhaps most important, open dialogue. Of course, we had our moments; Shahmaran is almost like a hyper realistic painting where every little detail has a story to tell. So, we had to give each other space to explore the process, to allow our artistic selves to bring out the best of our shared vision. 

How do the music and visuals work together in this piece to deliver the message, and what is the underlying message here?
Shahmaran is symbioses of music and visuals at its very core. Not only do they enrich and rely on each other to communicate the message of the film, but they were driving each other further in the creation of both elements. The visual element came to fruition after we came to a synergetic understanding that "Shahmaran" was her music to my story.

Combined together, the piece questions the eternal fascinations and desires of the human mind. It's the story of the black man, who continues life in a cycle of oppression. The modern chains on black men today are the aspirations of decadence, power and success that create a false sense of autonomy and freedom. This leaves them victim of addictions to power and materialism, unable to venture outside what is "expected" of their behavior. This is visible in the strong symbolic nature of the work, reflected in both the visual and the music. It's a stylized parable world that shares an almost biblical semantic.

What were WeTransfer and Red Bull's in the creation of this piece?
This project was a way of working with brands who have creativity at their core to ultimately support the vision of the artist. 

WeTransfer was part of this journey from the very beginning as one of our main partners. It's an integral part of their DNA, to curate creatives to make original work. We were supported with the autonomy to bring our shared vision to life and develop the project. There was a synergy in our shared values from the start, their way of thinking and encouraging next-level creative work was hugely important in the creation of Shahmaran.

We had the pleasure to work with Red Bull to screen the film to an exclusive group of European creatives, under the banner Red Bull Frontiers, in Matera, Italy, ahead of the launch. 

How is this video being shared with the world?
The film premiered to a tailored audience of creatives at the Red Bull Frontiers ahead of launching online across Sevdaliza's and my YouTube and Vimeo channels. It has been so rewarding and stimulating for us both to see how the film took on the online universe—the response has been almost overwhelming in the sense that our message seems to have resonated with so many. To engage with their responses, and see how they decode the symbolisms and the almost hidden messages, has been extremely gratifying. Their responses almost take our vision to the next level, as they comment on elements that we perhaps inserted on a subconscious level. As an artist that's hugely encouraging. 

The film will also run on WeTransfer, and it was recently a Vimeo Staff pick. 

"You Promised Us Paradise"

Starring: Anunnaki The Great, Sevdaliza
Original music by SEVDALIZA, Mucky, Zeb Wayne, Mihai Puscoiu, Leon den Engelsen
Produced by COMPULSORY, Handsome, HALAL
Director of Photography: Paul Özgür
Producers: Chris Toumazou, Melodie Saba

Executive Producers: Chris Toumazou, Melodie Saba, Sam Fontaine, Gijs Determeijer
Directed by Emmanuel Adjei
Written by Marleen Özgür, Emmanuel Adjei
Visual Effects Services: Mathematic
VFX coordinator: Guillaume Marien
VFX supervisor: Yann Aldabe
Flame Artist: Fred Brandon
Colourist: Vincent Heine

Production Services: Paranoiia Productions
Producer: Andrea Sastoque, Ariel Navarrete Spahn
Prod. Coordinator: Fabien Colas

Editing Services: Trim
Editor: Emmanuel Adjei, Leila Sarraf, Marleen Özgür
Sound-designer: Sharkee

1st AD: Jesse Hays
PA: Nick Weir, Camilo Godoy, Ann Kocarek
Prod. Designer: Miranda Lorenz
Art Department: Rudy Grazziani
Steadicam Operator: Parker Brooks, Chris Loh
Drone Operator: Josh Yeo
1st AC: Ai Dang
2nd AC: Harper Thomas
Gaffer: Scott Ray
Key Grip: Ryan Lozano
Costume Designer: Creepy Yeeha
Wardrobe: Inez Naomi
Stylist: Kristin Kathol
Hair Stylist: Devin Bianchini
Make Up Artist: Carla Rosso

Special Thanks: Wetransfer & Red Bull Music

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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