Director Walid Azami Sought Unique Ways to Portray the Pop Star
Viewers of Tamar Braxton’s “Love and War” music video may not soak in the significance of the stained glass window she’s facing while perched on the edge of a bathtub in the opening scene.
"You listen to her interviews and you hear how she’s relied on God. She’s in a cramped space and it’s dark and I wanted an element of God in the room, of lightness and good," said Walid Azami, the director of the video that was nominated for a 2013 Soul Train "Video of the Year" award.
The details that can go unnoticed, coupled with the imagery and style Walid used, elevate the video from what could have been the retelling of a reality show to a timeless creation.
Walid told me during an interview that the project was like caring for someone’s newborn baby, and he knew how important the project was to her career. The song “Love and War” focuses on the challenging reality of relationships and Walid said he wanted to change the tone from how viewers may associate her with the reality show Braxton Family Values.
I also dug into his career that began about five years ago while working with Madonna.
How did working for Madonna lay a career foundation for you as a photographer?
She does so much to learn so much. I sat there and I watched. I watched her work with thesephotographers and directors and I thought, ‘I won’t get this chance to be a fly on the wall like this, anywhere but here.’
She was doing children’s books, and sitcoms, and a world tour. I was there for 1 ½ to 2 years and she has her hands in so many different pots you can’t help but learn. I felt like I came out with a college degree in marketing and music videos and imagery. She does more than any other pop star, really.
For Tamar’s video, how did you decide on your approach?
Her character [on the reality show] is so amped up, I wanted people to see how beautiful she is. I wanted to tone her down. The hard decision in that was initially there weren’t the kindest reviews from her fans. They wanted a lot more war. They wanted doors slamming and things breaking and I wasn’t going to give them that.
I promised her she was going to have a classic video that would never expire.
The song is so descriptive and it is about love and war and I thought, let’s not the let the video become so literal.
Now she’s in her third and fourth video, I think you can see the plan work out.
Did you feel a lot of pressure?
A ton of pressure. I’m not going to lie. She’s following in Toni Braxton’s footsteps and we didn’t want a Toni Braxton video. At the time, she was several months pregnant and she hadn’t told me but I knew. So that was the hard thing, trying to think of the different angles. There were things I changed on set. I didn’t want her knowing that I know because I was afraid she would be self-conscious and she would be showing.
That was a huge challenge the day of. They can have their private moment but I still need to make her look incredible for this video.
Did the silhouettes play into it? The video and clothing seemed to flow.
The flowing, the dress, it was a sweater I think, I intentionally leaned on that for that reason. The silhouette was part of the symbolism throughout the video.
Why the black and white and why not intersperse with color?
I thought it would have been tacky for that song. I had just gotten back to the States from a trip and I got a call from Vincent her husband and said, ‘Hey, Tamar wants to talk to you.’ We had a few creative points back and forth and she said I want to do this in black and white. I think I even told her God bless you.
It was inspired by Herb Ritts for Chris Isaack’s video “Wicked Game.” It was very classic and he directed a video from Madonna’s “Cherish.” We actually filmed on the exact same patch of beach.
I saw a picture of Herb Ritts and he posed on the same little rock that I did with Tamar. He’s one of the photographers I look up to so I found that cool.
What about the symbolism in the video?
I use a lot of silhouettes because I wanted to highlight the war part without a lot of fighting. I show the darkness, the arguing moments, in silhouettes.
The first part of the video started with her looking at the ocean, she’s on the sand. I really wanted to use water because I think it’s cleansing. I think in any relationship, in any situation, you have to take a look at yourself, too.
I wanted her to see a reflection of herself, look at that, in a cleansing back-to-something-new sort of way. That’s why we started that way.
It shows your commitment to the project.
Always. I was talking to my assistant and I said, any artist, they sacrifice so much and it’s like literally holding someone’s newborn baby and they say, ‘here you go. I did everything I cold with this and I need you to take care of it.’
If you don’t give 100 percent then I think you’re failing.
You have to commit because you’re holding someone’s dream in your hands.
To view Walid’s work, click on his website WalidAzami.com
by Don Simkovich
A couple corrections but I think Don Simkovich did a great job on the article. We shot on the same beach that Madonna did “Cherish”, not the “Wicked Game” video. And I didn’t want a Toni Braxton video meaning “Toni is amazing in her own way, but I wanted to give Tamar her own identity” … not that Toni’s videos are not good. Toni’s videos and career is iconic.