Ahamefule J. Oluo’s music video “The Things Around Us” was the recent feature of the UW Meany Center’s online event series, “Meany on Screen.”
The piece begins with Oluo in a dark room, lightly lit by hues of colored lights and candles. In the left corner of the screen sits a bottle of Windex spray. Oluo uses a drumstick to bang the bottle and the audience hears a steady drum.
The majority of the video visuals consist of two angles of Oluo in this room, with his respective shadows (and that of the Windex) layered atop one another. As more candles are lit and the drum beat continues on, Oluo is centered in his space.
The room spins and there is the single figure of Oluo, who appears to be in search or observation of the things around him. He pulls out a saxophone and prepares to play. The saxophone tune overlays the previous drumming sound, which is similar to how the beat progresses in the remainder of the piece, continuing with a trumpet that builds upon these sounds.
The spinning continues, creating a sort of trance with the low, space-colored lights of night and sunsets, deep purple-blues and pink with tinges of green.
The sounds are low and inspire relaxation in this way, but the dark lighting is somewhat harsh and makes it difficult to discern what is going on at times. The piece is almost 16 minutes long, which makes for a lot of time to observe Oluo stuck in this room, though it strengthens the theme of isolation within the work. Additionally, the video is sectioned by the introduction of words.
Oluo faces the audience and states, “If one of the worst parts of a global pandemic is not being able to see the people you want to see, then surely the inverse is true. Then one of the best parts of a global pandemic is not having to see the people you don’t want to see.”
As some of the only words Oluo shares directly with the audience, the absence of people surrounding Oluo is a pressing topic in the music video. But spinning the phrase in this way does not invoke happiness. Rather, it forces a reflection on the quality of individuals that are present in one's life.
Confined in this room, viewers watch as Oluo is isolated by the pandemic and feels increasing distress — evident in his pained facial expressions. By including this struggle, Oluo brings attention to the mental struggles that can stem from isolation.
The music has a calm pace that was easy to follow, especially in the instruments as they stacked sounds and built a steady tune. Inversely, the piece could feel chaotic at times, with the lighting and visual overlays that signified a blend of realities. I found myself wondering what parts of the video and Oluo’s space were “real” and what were merely a result of the things around him.
Reach writer Huma Ali at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @humabali
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