Friday, March 02, 2007
Bling'd: Blood, Diamonds, Hip-Hop and Reggaeton
Two days ago I finally saw VH1’s documentary Bling’d: Blood, Diamonds and Hip-Hop. It focuses on the tragedies fueled by the diamond trade in Sierra Leone and features artists Raekwon, Paul Wall, Tego Calderon and former child soldier Ishmael Beah.
The folks behind the documentary did a great job thinking through how to weave this complex history into a captivating tale. Above all, the documentary is a necessary eye-opener and extremely valuable as an educational tool.
For me, the two most provocative pieces of information offered are:
1. The huge amount of human suffering involved in producing those ridiculously expensive, tiny pieces of rock.
2. Why do we place so much value in diamonds in the first place?
A fellow artist and educator deeply concerned with the craziness of our hyper-consumerist society did not share my enthusiasm upon watching the documentary. He thinks it fell way short of its potential in advocating for folks to become agents of change. (I’ll quote his name and exact words as soon as he gives me the o.k.) He is probably right. But, at this point, I’m just glad to have at my disposal a captivating documentary that serves as a starting point for further educational work.
The hip-hop/reggaeton artists in the documentary did not all share the same initial passion for diamonds. Neither did they all react the same way to the information they got while in Sierra Leone. In the documentary and since they came back from the trip, some of them have said that consumers should demand “clean” or “conflict-free” diamonds. Others have been advocating for changes in the process of diamond production. They have said the miners slaving away for food at the beginning of the production line should get greater compensation for their hard labor. They have also argued that the countries providing the raw materials for the diamond industry should get greater economic benefits than under the present arrangement.
Tego has advocated all of the above. But, as a result of that trip, he also took his jewelry off.
He was surprisingly quiet throughout the documentary (as Sandra pointed out in the previous blog entry). But the little he did say conveyed how disturbed he was by witnessing the cruelest side of the diamond trade.
For El Nuevo Día images of Tego during the trip, click here.
In an interview with Leila Cobo, Tego said about his trip to Sierra Leone:
“I saw the way folks live over there. It’s a place full of natural resources. The government profits, the rich profit, and the people don’t even have electricity. I didn’t take my jewelry off because I saw the poverty. It was because I saw the effects of us wearing diamonds. […] I’m not asking other artists to develop that consciousness and to do the same. It’s just that I did. […]”
For Tego, the issue is not about diamonds in particular, but about flaunting wealth in general. He doesn’t think it’s right for artists to show off so shamelessly in front of fans who don’t have the same resources. (His exact words: “Le estamos estrujando el éxito en la cara a otra gente que son nuestros fanáticos y no tiene los recursos.”)
Now that’s a man with sensibility. Once you’ve seen the slave labor and the human atrocities involved in diamond production, it’s hard to look at those shiny little things and still find them attractive.
The next few show times on VH1 are:
Friday, Mar. 2 @ 12:30/11:30c AM
Wednesday, Mar. 7 @ 1/12c AM
Friday, Mar. 9 @ 1:30/12:30c PM