Interview: Music Producer And Film Maker Edem Dotse talks the making of Waves and other projects

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Edem Dotse (R) with Sutra strategizing

There are some people you meet on many occasions yet do not quiet put a thumb on who they are or what they do, although you know many within the circle of friends they keep. Their personality becomes a curious case to unravel. When that unraveling is to happen remains a question you can’t really tell. Then, it happens. You stumble on a piece of information that sheds a layer of your curiosity. Your idea of who the person is becomes a little clearer. The full picture, however, comes into view when his name pops up along a piece of creativity. Although they curiosity bubble is burst by now, you still are not satisfied. You need to know more about the person. So, like Kendrick Lamar said on To Pimp A Butterfly: ‘You go looking for answers’.

Edem Dotse is one person who was a curious case to me, even though we’ve met a few times. Our conversations never went past the usual ‘how be?’ and its accompanying handshakes and finger snaps. I surmised he was a creative of some sort –you can’t hang with the Decaf Team if you aren’t a creative of some sort (just saying). Edem is a man of many hats-a music producer and a film maker.

A product of Ashesi University, Edem Dotse was a co-director on the recently released narrative film, Waves/The Water, by singer SUTRA. The brilliantly made film has been critically acclaimed for its beauty, aesthetics and ability to capture the essence of life, growth and womanhood in a way that leaves whoever sees it in awe. ‘Waves/The Water’ has been described in many ways- ranging from ethereal, raw, timeless, essential and passionate.

Seeing his name in the credits for ‘Waves/The Water’ along with the heap of praise SUTRA dispensed on him and others involved, I decided it was time to talk to this quiet, laid back yet amazing Edem Dotse about his involvement in the making of the film; the challenges encountered; his passion for film making, which he describes as ‘a fascinated medium’; his passion for music production, his future plans and how the arts in Ghana could be grown.

First, thanks for doing this. How did you get involved in the whole process?

My pleasure. So basically Sutra reached out to me about wanting to make a video for Waves. We’d worked together before on her mixtape (The Art of Being) and she knew I was also into film, so it made sense. She had very specific imagery based on what came to her mind when she heard/made the song, and so that was the basis of it. From there we started trading emails and discussing her ideas, and that was the genesis of it.

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Edem (in blue) with Ghalileo and Efua Sutherland on set of ‘Waves’

How long did this idea trading take? And on her previous mixtape, what did you do specifically?

I produced four songs on it. I was primarily producing music before I ventured into film. We started speaking about it in late November, and it was for a little over a month before the actual shoot in early January.

Watching the video, i realized there were a lot of themes drawn from Akan culture-death, symbols, clothes, after-life. How challenging was it to shoot the video and fill it with all the themes?

Man, it was stressful! Sutra was not in town for very long and we basically had about a week to meet with people, put logistics together and rehearse. As you mentioned, the video is full of imagery and we had one day to shoot all of that. It helped a lot that we were working with immensely talented people who had faith in what we were trying to do. About the themes, Akan culture has a lot of depth to it, we tried to draw from the philosophy and poetry of it that tied into Sutra’s vision. Well, we ended up having to shoot some extra scenes later, but I’d say 80 per cent of it was done in one day.

One day to shoot? Wow. You all deserve applauds. I know you as a music guy (a producer) so hearing about you doing films is a surprise. How long have you been in films? And what attracted you?

Ha! Well I’ve been actively studying the craft of film since 2012. But I didn’t start seriously making film until 2015. I’ve always been fascinated by the medium. At some point I began to realize most of my memorable experiences with art have been with film. As a somewhat reserved person, I’m fascinated by how you can open your mind up to the world through it- you can speak through your characters and the worlds you create. I’m also fascinated by the potential to create challenging, non-conventional pieces of work that are full of powerful, relevant ideas that people may or may not pick up on but have a visceral reaction to it. That’s what excited me about working with Sutra on this project.

Is Waves your major work (that has gone public for lack of a better description) or you have others?

I would say yes, it is. Besides that there’s my 2015 short film, Steam Iron on vimeo. I’ve also worked on a short film on schizophrenia that will probably be out later this year.

As a music producer and a film maker, what are the intersections and the point of divergence between these two mediums?

That’s an interesting question (the link between music & film). I think that as a music person, I’m very concerned about the sound design in my work- something I’ve noticed is not common here- the sound of films often feels like an afterthought. I also think that the creating of music, and crafting a musical project is very much like making a film- on a conceptual level- you have to think of themes, motifs, what you want the audience to feel.

What’s the future for you in terms of your creative works-film and music?

In the immediate future, I’m going back to working on music for a bit. I don’t know if I see myself active in the music video scene going forward, but I am definitely open to collaborating on interesting projects with interesting people. I have plans for a few more short films and a feature that will hopefully unfold in a few years from now.

How will you describe, from where you sit, the film making (and music video) scene in Ghana and its music as well?

I feel very optimistic about the creative arts scene in Ghana generally, but I hope we will be able to build sustainable systems to help incubate and support the talent we have here. As for me, in the long term future, I just hope I can keep on making music, or film, or find interesting ways to combine the two.

On your answer to the intersection between music & film, do I sense you have an eye on scoring movies?

About scoring movies, I would say no for now. I’m more interested in helming my own film project, and being very much involved in the scoring process. It’s definitely something I can see myself doing though.

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