Tour Tales | Emmanuel Whajah captures the emotions of Burna Boy, Ms. Lauryn Hill and more
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the photographer explains how his African descent helped him shoot Burna Boy, Hill’s perfectionism, and the sleepless nights it takes to shoot these stars. Read here!
Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ‘Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
“[Ms. Lauryn Hill] was performing [‘Killing Me Softly’] and I tried to get the shot close enough to her face because she was in the moment. I captured that moment and you could see the light from the stage falling right into my camera lens,” Whajah told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the photographer explains how his African descent helped him shoot Burna Boy, Hill’s perfectionism, and the sleepless nights it takes to capture these stars. Read below!
Who was the first major artist you went on tour with?
Back in the days with Kid Ink. It was around 2014. I think it was his first Europe tour and the first time he was in Germany. Around that time he was huge. The shows were sold out in Germany and around Europe. I was just starting at that time. I think it was the first-ever concert I shot.
What are some shots you knew you could get with Kid Ink?
I like to capture the artist from a wide angle to get the crowd in the picture, as well. I love also all the pictures from the back to see the crowd in front of him.
When did you tour with Ms. Lauryn Hill?
That was recent. Before the COVID situation, she did a short European tour in Germany. She was asking for a photographer and videographer for the show, and the agency she was working with told her about my work. For me, I’ve known Lauryn Hill from Sister Act when I was a little boy, so it was a huge legendary moment to talk with her. She’s such a perfectionist.
Did she give you any instructions on what she wanted her photos to look like?
Yeah. When I came into the room, her manager who arranged the whole thing brought me in, told me what to do, what angles she likes, what I should do when she’s performing, and what position I shouldn’t be when she’s performing certain songs. They were very structured and specific. They already knew what they wanted. It was amazing to see how much of a perfectionist she is. She also posted my photos on her Instagram, which was a huge moment for me.
Any example of a song you had to shoot a specific way?
There’s a photo where her head is a little in front of the mic with her eyes closed. She liked those sorts of pictures that captured the emotion. That moment was when she was singing “Killing Me Softly.” She was performing the song and I tried to get the shot close enough to her face because she was in the moment. I captured that moment and you could see the light from the stage falling right into my camera lens.
What were the crowd reactions during those shows?
There were so many different people in the audience — Black, white, old, young. You could see she had a huge impact on every sort of person. People were singing her song word-for-word. The audience was very appreciative of seeing her perform because she isn’t always on tour.
What is the most impressive finesse you did in order to shoot a show?
Festivals are the most popular events photographers try to get in because you have a bunch of artists to shoot. One of my greatest shots was Vestival in Denmark. That was in 2015 and the lineup had French Montana, Chris Brown, August Alsina, Tyga, Omarion. Everybody in Europe knew those types of artists were coming together on a lineup like that and they all had songs together. I contacted the head of the festival directly. I told him I wanted to shoot for free. He didn’t reply until a day or two before the festival. He said, “OK, sounds good,” but he didn’t say I could shoot the festival. But, I ran with that. I called my partner at the time, we drove to Holland, went to the gates and we had crew member T-shirts. So, we told them the head of the festival told us to come. I showed them the screenshot of the email where he said it sounded cool. They accepted that and we were in. I had the chance to meet Chris Brown, Tyga, and Omarion. Meeting Omarion helped open doors for us to go on tour with Omarion. The head of the festival was so confused about how we got all of those shots because we got better shots than the photographers hired for the festival.
How did you connect with Burna Boy?
He’s one of the biggest African artists. The agency I work with organized the whole tour for him in Europe. It was easy for me to get in touch because they know I’m African and it may be easier for someone from an African place to connect with an African artist. I met his mother who was his manager. The day I first shot him, I didn’t know I was going to be able to shoot other concerts as well. This was in 2019. He had never been to Europe like that, so every concert was sold out. It was so stressful during that time. I didn’t sleep because we went to Germany, shot the sold-out show in Berlin, and then he had a concert in Paris. That whole tour was an adventure. I remember we had Jorja Smith come out as a special guest at one of the shows. Having this African vibe, it was easier for me to talk to him and get the vibe with him. I knew just what to capture. He liked the photos I took and that was one of the biggest moments of my life.
What is it like shooting him?
Same with Kid Ink, he likes a lot of crowd situations because he always runs up the stage and his energy on stage is so crazy. Getting those kinds of angles where he’s moving around and communicating with his fans are picture[s] he really like[s]. I always try to get the angle where you can see him from head to toe. He likes those shots. He also likes some of the emotional shots. Seeing the whole crowd from behind him are also pictures he likes. Those photos are the ones who have been on his page the most that were shot by me.
What were the most memorable crowd reactions?
When the song “Anybody” from African Giant came on, no matter the city, it went mad. People passed out. People were doing all sorts of dance moves in the audience as if they were in the club.
Tell me more about Jorja Smith being a special guest at one of his shows.
The only thing I knew was they told us there will be a special guest, but nobody knew exactly who it was. When I went backstage and could see the names on the rooms, I read one that said “Jorja Smith” and it was crazy. Most of the time, if some of the artists have a special appearance at a show, you never know if they may cancel it right before. So, I didn’t see her and wasn’t sure if she was going to come. When Burna Boy was going to perform, I went backstage and saw her crew. I thought it was going to be crazy. She didn’t appear at any other spots on the tour but the Germany spot. I remembered when they finished performing, she went backstage alone without any bodyguards or friends. I left the venue for a moment and went backstage…when she came out, I asked if I could take a picture of her. We talked for a few minutes and it was a normal conversation. She was asking me how Germany is like and I was asking her how the U.K. is like. It was a cool vibe. I gave her a polaroid photo I took of her as a gift.
What do you have coming up for 2021?
This year I’m shooting Afrochella, which is going to be in Ghana. I just had a call with them last week and they want me to be a part of the whole team. I’ll do the promo visual stuff for them and I’ll also shoot the festival, as well. That’s going to be a huge moment to shoot for my people. I’m going to try to go to some festivals overseas. I’m going to connect with photographers in the [United] States and see what I can do over there. I’ve already shot everything you could shoot in Europe. Hopefully, things get back to normal.
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