With technological advancement, it is easy for anyone to venture into video-making using their cameras. Yet, it takes special talent and skill to produce music videos that stick to the mind.
Ron CZ, born Ronald Chikumbutso Zeleza, is eking a niche for himself as a force to reckon with when it comes to production of music videos.
Whenever he directs a music video, there is something magical to it.
Although his entry into the trade in 2009 was a humble one, as he used a laptop computer webcam to shoot his first music-video, he has grown from strength to strength. That very first video caught the eyes of video producer, Eric Mataka, who made him his right hand man.
“My first video was rapper Diktator’s Yanga Ija which I shot and was edited by Mataka. I perfected my art through video-shooting and editing of the late rapper Ken Muwamba who was known by the moniker Revolver,” he said.
As they say, one thing leads to another, Theo Thomson developed interest in Ron CZ’s prowess.
“Theo introduced me to more advanced equipment. With other video directors, such as VJ Ice and Chippie Khonje’s influence, the brand Ron CZ started getting big,” he added.
He gives it all his to change the face of music video production in the country. The works of his hands have proven that he is another talented videographer, director and producer Malawian musicians can lean on if they want their videos to catch the hearts and minds of people.
Apart from being director, he is also a filmmaker, cinematographer, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Red Ink media, a production company that specializes in performing arts, news media art, film, television and photography.
Says the 25-year-old: “I was born in a family of various talents. Art became part of me since childhood. Just for example, I would mount cameras made from clay soil and pretend to shoot my friends and because of that, I believed that would be reality one day. I have always liked visuals and that pushed me to have the hunger of creating my own.”
The Blantyre-based video director obtained his primary education at Newlands Primary School then secondary school education at Royal Private School, both in Blantyre. For his tertiary education, he enrolled with Malawi College of Accountancy (MCA) and qualified as an accountant. It was here where he developed great interest in video production.
“Many people, especially those who know me from that time, thought that I would go for film production at the college level and I never expected this. But I enrolled with MCA to do accounting and now I am a qualified accountant,” he said.
Locally, he has been influenced by Chippie Khonje, VJ Ice and Theo Thomson, while internationally the works of Director X have wowed him. His dream is to keep the Zeleza name alight.
My uncle Paul Tiyambe Zeleza is known for his writing art, so I want to continue his legacy through visuals,” said Ron CZ.
While in secondary school, he met Revolver, then a recording artist. The two started a group after becoming acquainted with each other. Trap Entertainment Records was formed after Ron CZ moved to Mzuzu. The two decided to look for more artists who could rap and sing.
Ron CZ roped in a friend, Mwiza Chavura to the record label after being introduced to him by a mutual friend. After a while, the group added in a female rapper Chavura’s sister, Juda Gaga. Trap Entertainment became a major label in Malawi and continued signing more artists but now it has disbanded.
Ron CZ has directed videos for recording artists across an array of genres and generations, including for Street Fame of Gold Chain fame, Gwamba, Theo and Patience Namadingo, just to mention a few.
“Having started my career 10 years ago, I have worked with renowned R&B singer Theo in the production of the first Malawian Cypher, which features hip-hop artists Barry One, Rina, Yesaya, Genii Blakk, Renegade and N.I.C.
“I am also the producer of the only Malawian music videos that made it on Channel O that year, Boy Magic’s Go Dumb and Theo’s That is my Song,” he looks back.
As he recalls his journey, Ron CZ explains that it has not been easy to get where he is now as he discloses that his very first video was shot using a webcam on a laptop.
In 2013, he shot the music video for Theo’s Awake song which was the first video from Malawi to show on MTV Base worldwide.
Having had the privilege to shoot Nigeria’s hip-hop star Ice Prince’s concert in Malawi and former Big Brother Africa celebrity rappers Lomwe and Zeus’ Double Wowza concert in the country, Ron CZ is also credited for producing Fredokiss’ Kunditcha Fredo music video. Recently, he also had an opportunity to produce his first international video for a South African artist called Scotty Cirus which was shot in South Africa.
Ron CZ has also shot and produced numerous documentaries, TV commercials and features.
As for awards, from 2012, the celebrated video director has been nominated three times by Urban Music People (UMP) and won one award for Best Video for Tay Grin’s 21, a collaboration with Sonye.
“In terms of benefits, I can say it pays. All that matters is having that business mindset and staying focused. So far, I manage to pay rentals, salaries and I am driving from the same work. But it is not easy in a growing industry where customers can choose from a variety of video directors so you need to be smart,” he said.
He reckons the industry is still in its infancy and that most artists do not really benefit from music in the end they cannot afford the production. Again, getting equipment is also a challenge because there are no shops stocking equipment.
On his future, Ron CZ says he wants to pursue education in the film and directing sphere to sharpen his skill and talent.
As he sees progress ahead of him, the young video producer, however, observes that lack of equipment still remains the biggest challenge the industry in Malawi is facing, adding that people are not willing to spend more on video production.
“People don’t want to pay for the good quality of work you have done for them, so it becomes hard for us to progress and get new equipment. We use expensive stuff and for most Malawian artists, they don’t sell their music so they find it worthless shooting a good video,” he added.
Ron CZ picks this may be love by award-winning rapper Tay Grin and Theo Thomson’s video produced by Chipie Khonje as the best video to ever be produced in Malawi by Malawians. n