Creating a Music Video With Seinabo Sey

Creating a Music Video With Seinabo Sey

The Gambian-Swedish artist gives us an exclusive look at filming "I Owe You Nothing"

The Gambian-Swedish artist gives us an exclusive look at filming "I Owe You Nothing"

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

A significant part of Seinabo Sey’s appeal is her intriguing duality. Her voice—with its matured and textured rasp mixed with creamy smoothness—fluctuates within each song. At times, her sound is gargantuan and anthemic in nature, before switching to mellow and understated. Her message sometimes focuses on badass swagger and self-respect, while at other times, she narrows in on topics related to following dreams or the beauty of everyday life. She feels wise but curious, sophisticated but fun. At a time in which branding artists to be one specific “thing” feels more omnipresent than ever, the honesty of Sey’s complex personality is much appreciated.

“Being in the studio is always very traumatic, to be honest,” she tells me at her label’s office in Stockholm, Sweden. It’s a poignant admission that few other artists willingly share. “I wouldn’t change the way it is. But making songs is…I don’t know if it’s the way life happens when I have downtime or when I get to manage my own time, or if it’s actually the fact that songs are very difficult to write for me.” The topic arises after beginning to discuss her new music, two singles titled “I Owe You Nothing” and “Remember”, an impossibly pretty stunner. Naturally, we go on to talk about how difficult times breed art—that said, Sey does have an opinion on the clichéd topic.

“The whole myth about art coming from pain is that you write the song when you’re in pain. You don’t write the song when you’re in pain,” she notes. “You write the song when you get out of it. When I’m sad, I just want to chill. Get drunk.” After hearing that, it feels obvious—visions of troubled artists dropping everything and immediately walking into a studio after a hard time fade away; these people aren’t superhuman, after all. “Sometimes I wish I was an artist who was a lot better at using my imagination or watching a movie,” she continues. “But if you’re a person who feels like they have to live through things to convey them, I think you have to go the whole circle. That’s where the trauma lies.”

But any notion of melancholy in the above shouldn’t be confused with weakness. After beginning to release music in 2013, Sey’s career trajectory moved fast—she says she learned about publishers, booking agents, record labels, etc., all very quickly. She’s toured Europe and the US extensively, telling me she much prefers being on stage than anything else. Even growing up, which she did in a small Swedish town called Halmstad, was no easy feat. “I was too weird for [that place],” she shares. “I was a black person. There were no black people. And I just had…I don’t know, dreams of bigger places.” She shares her obsession with Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé during MTV’s heyday, saying, “At that time, that was the only way of seeing that culture. We couldn’t Google or watch documentaries freely on YouTube like we can do today. That was my only means of escaping. I really loved those little words.”

Having elaborately art directed every single scene of the new music video for “I Owe You Nothing” feels like a huge triumph for Sey, which feels more understandable after hearing her love for MTV as a kid. As with anything, the video did come with difficulties. "They lost six cases of technology going there," Sey explains, adding that they no longer had the camera they were planning to use. Teamwork seemed to be the name of the game during filming. “I’m very proud of everyone because there were a million things that went wrong…but I’ve never been this proud in my life, of anything. When you feel proud of something, you don’t really care what other people think, I’m learning. Of course, I’m happy when people like things, but I really feel like if people don’t get it, well, I tried my best.”

Check out an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Sey’s video, below.

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