In the age of disposable, consumable digital content, the visual album (that is, the concept of a musician releasing a short film which is soundtracked by the lyrics and music of their own album, enabling them to provide deeper context to their creative approach) stands out as a cultural and creative phenomenon. It’s harder to classify why visual albums exists – are they simply a collection of music videos stitched together, or are they simply glorified concert films? However it is seen, the visual album should provide an integrated experience for the viewer/listener, so much so that the visual and audio become intertwined, making it difficult to separate the two.
One of the most successful visual albums of all time is Prince’s Oscar winning “Purple Rain” (1984), in which we follow the protagonist on his journey to becoming an artist, with the songs from the album providing the perfect backdrop to the story.
In later years, we would see other visual albums from various artists, but the prominence of Black musicians embracing this art form became more visible over the next few decades, with career defining work from Janelle Monae (a self acknowledged Prince disciple), Kanye West and Beyonce. These artists used the visual album to cover themes of belonging, betrayal and identity, bringing images together in a unique way that immersed their audiences in their narratives.
Events company We Are Parable will celebrate some of those Black musicians who have created visual albums to enhance their storytelling abilities with a new season. Titled “The Art of the Black Visual Album”, the nationwide project has been been funded by the British Film Institute’s Film Audience Network, and will visit five cities between October and January, showing work from Sampha, Janelle Monae, Kamasi Washington, Prince and Rapman, who created the YouTube hit “Shiro’s Story”, the three part musical drama that has generated over 20 million views.
“Although the visual album can be traced back decades, it feels that over the last few years, Black artists are creating these pieces which really stand out as cultural and creative phenomena,” says Anthony Andrews, co-founder of We Are Parable. “We wanted to curate a programme which showed just how expansive, varied and innovative the art form can be.”
The season starts off with a screening of Janelle Monae’s groundbreaking visual album “Dirty Computer”, where she plays Jane, who is about to have her life affirming memories wiped out by the men in white suits who see them as “dirty”. As her thoughts are erased, we’re invited into a colourful, fun world, which typifies Monae’s playfulness as an artist. The screening will take place at the Scottish Queer International Film Festival on the 6th October.
“This piece of work really typifies what visual albums are all about, a true exploration into an artists’ mind, providing the audience with a deeper meaning of the art,” says Teanne Andrews, co-founder of We Are Parable.
“The Art of The Visual Album” will also celebrate “Purple Rain” with immersive screenings planned throughout the country; on the 15th October at the everyman Crystal Palace, We Are Parable will have a band perform after the film has screened, offering the audience the chance to not only celebrate the film, but enjoy and highlight the iconic music
With many other screenings planned including “Process” by Sampha and “As Told to G/D Himself” by Kamasi Washington, “The Art of The Visual Album” will attempt to showcase and celebrate some of the best that this continually evolving artform has to offer.
The Art of The Visual Album is supported by the BFI Film Audience Network
Nationwide Season as part of BFI Musicals
October 2019 – January 2020
All artwork by Pearl Ivy