Innovative, resourceful and vibrantly entertaining, Sanaa Hamri is one of the most renowned music video editors, as well as a sophisticated director in the music industry. With a distinguished roster of high-profile artists including Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, Dr. Dre, Prince, Jay Z and India.Arie, Hamri has proven that she is a force to be reckoned with—accomplishing this in just 3 years!
In 1992, at age 17, Hamri emigrated from her native Morocco to study theater at the prestigious Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Shortly after receiving her degree, Hamri learned that legendary music video cinematographer Malik Sayeed was looking for an assistant to oversee his post-production company, Salaam Inc. Although Hamri’s focus had been theater, she was an admirer of Sayeed’s work and applied for the position.
Hamri landed the job at Salaam Inc., where her duties primarily consisted of, as she describes it, “sitting in the office waiting for deliveries and answering phones.” But Hamri, a self-confessed workaholic, quickly elasticized her limited duties by teaching herself how to use the Avid machines, housed in Sayeed’s office, which are the central nervous system of video editing. “I had no editing skills when I started--nothing,” she recalls.
Under Sayeed’s tutelage, Hamri decided to edit some left over footage that he shot and from this she put together a video. After impressing Sayeed with her handiwork, Sayeed took Hamri under his wing, becoming her mentor. Hamri, an avaricious protégé, recalls, “I watched his videos, pored through his photography books, sought advice, and asked him as many questions that I could.”
It was Sayeed who later gave Hamri a small video-editing job for the Reggae/Hip-Hop fusion group, Born Jamericans, and it was this job that ignited her illustrious career as an up-and-coming editor. Sayeed was also the cinematographer for famed director Hype Williams, with whom Hamri was able to work closely with. “Hype’s outright creativity inspired me,” she says. “I have learned so much from working with him. I was a sponge for knowledge.”
When Hamri decided to make the transition into directing two years later, her portfolio (of artists and directors) read like an entertainment social register including: Dr. Dre, Mariah Carey, R. Kelly, Brandy, D’Angelo, Missy Elliot, Christina Aguilera, DMX, Third Eye Blind, Ja Rule, Prodigy, Insane Clown Posse, Method Man and directors such as Paul Hunter, Hype Williams, Brett Ratner, and Diane Martel.
Hamri’s directing break came with a low-budget, hardcore Bronx rap video for LaFace recording artists 1 Life 2 Live for their song “Blind Love.” Mariah Carey got a hold of the video, saw Hamri’s potential and called her immediately. Hamri recalls, “She liked the composition of the video and felt that the narrative was well-executed. She also saw my potential as a director.”
Carey was so impressed with Hamri’s work that she asked Hamri to direct her “Thank God I Found You” remix, since she has helmed several clips for Carey including her video for “Don’t Stop” featuring Mystikal and her video for “Cry Baby” featuring Snoop Dogg. Hamri also directed Carey’s “Oh Holy Night” clip, a special Christmas video to benefit children in need These projects were soon followed by videos for Bilal featuring Jadakiss “Fast Lane”, Destiny’s Child “8 Days of Christmas” and “Nasty Girl”, Solange “Feelin’ You”, Common featuring Mary J. Blige “Come Close to Me”, Kelly Rowland “Stole”, India.Arie “Little Things”, Heather Headley “He Is” and Jay Z “Song Cry”.
Hamri, who speaks four languages, says that her fast moving directing career was a natural transition. “As an editor I was around so many directors and saw how they executed their visions—you’re living with the footage.” She adds, “You definitely learn from directors’ creativity, as well as their mistakes.”
Hamri feels that her North African heritage has also impacted her directing style. “In Morocco we have very intricate cultural aesthetic. There is a lot of art. People are very visual.” Striving toward a career as a feature film director, Hamri is constantly cultivating her craft. “I work all the time,” she says. “If I’m not editing or directing, I’m at the bookstore poring through magazines, seeing what the latest trends are. I like to study foreign films. I particularly enjoy European New Wave cinema.”
The beauty of Hamri’s own aesthetic is that she is always metamorphosing. Hamri embodies each artist’s style and incorporates it with her own vision; skillfully making each video a masterpiece. The mere fact that Hamri has been blessed to work with such an A-list roster of talent further proves the authenticity of her vision. “There are certain thematic similarities to all the shoots, but they don’t look like they’re from the same person. With each artist it has to be a different world. Trying to make an artist look like they’ve never looked before is one of my goals. But I’m heavily into the art of photography instead of just getting up and filming a shot. From the lighting that you use to the clothes to the background, the cinematography is like painting on a canvas with colors. I try to incorporate great works of art that feed the mind. I want to evoke some sort of emotion out of a music video,” says Hamri.
With her fresh, adventurous perspective and creative visual imagery, it’s easy to see how Hamri has established such a strong following and continues to earn accolades from artists, critics and audiences alike, becoming one of the industry’s fastest rising directors.