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Okayafrica Exclusive: Diplo + Chief Boima Debate The Politics Of Tropical Bass


Diplo is steamed.

STATS: But even though there’s all this freedom of exchange, that DJ list still reflects that old world model of some European capital being the center of culture. Take (Lisbon kuduro group) Buraka Som Sistema–they have access that people from Angola don’t. I mean it’s not their fault, they make great music and they try to put a light on Znobia or other Angolan artists…but still it’s recreated, somehow.

Diplo: I mean nobody in Africa reads Mixmag [actually DJ Mag-ed], like maybe a few DJs in Johannesburg. It’s like voting in America, who goes to vote in the polls in November? It’s like old retirees, it’s misrepresented. I’m not even on that list. The people who vote for that are Northern Europeans and Eastern Europeans, like American’s don’t even vote for that list.

Boima: Well, that list is obviously problematic, off top. What I was trying to draw it into, is–like you said, there’s this world with a little more grey area, like, Yo the internet has freed up all this information, you don’t really have to travel to access it. I don’t want you to think that I don’t travel as well, I worked with musicians in Liberia myself. But the point is there’s still a politics involved in our scene.

Diplo: Can we put a name to this scene we’re talking about?

Boima: It’s not a name, it’s a concept, right? It’s not-the-top-100 Ibiza or Pacha, even Johan (of Radioclit and The Very Best) is producing under the name We Don’t Belong in Pacha. There’s this conscious, against-the-grain of that old school way of thinking. But what I’m saying is that even amongst all of us, even amongst my homies here in New York, there are separations between us that still exist structurally. Yeah we can go around the world and get similar experiences in New York, Dubai wherever. The thing that people don’t really draw attention to is the fact that folks in Cambodia can’t really get visas to come here, and don’t have the same amount of mobility as we do.

I guess I should mention that my background interest is in development. I’m in that kind of field–went to school for it–to figure out as a DJ, what’s really happening in the world. So that whatever my contribution is, I can start to tackle some of these inequalities that exist.

STATS: But even where those disparities exist–don’t you think that what Wes is doing frees it up more? Don’t you think trying to cross those lines, as people hear the music more…does that contribute to the disparity?

Boima: I think there’s a role to play in this introduction, normalizing or mainstreaming ideas of foreign-ness. So, from the perspective of Africa: in the 80’s Africa was Eddie Murphy in Coming To America. Now we’re in an era where Africans can be more mainstream-accepted, maybe a D’Banj can be looked at as fitting into this American sense of normalcy. But it’s not really challenging the status quo, the US is still a dominant force culturally.

STATS: Diplo, of all these different scenes that you have championed and taken inspiration from–you said Brazil was a big moment for you, a turning point, but there’s been tons of others, kuduro etc.–that you have taken inspiration from and tried to a shine light on. How do you look at that in practical terms?

Diplo: The most important thing for me in my career right now, to help these other genres that I’m promoting, is to stay relevant. On a level where I can produce artists in America like Usher and Chris Brown, that’s what makes people even interested in what I’m doing on a mainstream level. And if I can do that, I can do other things on the side–like run Mad Decent, which is pretty much a money pit. I don’t know if you know any of my indie labels, but we put in probably $40,000 a year just in the artists I want to promote. But I can take a couple gigs in the week and then put that into Mad Decent. For me it’s more important to have this label running, because without it, I’m just another DJ doing anything. It’s like a dime a dozen out there.

Sometimes I make records I don’t even like. I’m working on some pop artists, like I’m not even that excited about the Beyoncé record. I didn’t have full control of those records, but this is stuff that helps me parlay into different things. I’m on a path that I want to take advantage of, so I can also go this direction if I want to, but I can’t control what the audience wants to hear. I don’t get gigs doing kuduro or baile funk. But I will have those guys play at our Mad Decent parties, or I will have them release records on Mad Decent, or even give away their records, and put their mixtapes up, whatever it takes, because I have the access to do that.

But if I just did that as a full time job, I’d be broke as fuck. I’d be homeless, no one would even check my website. But I still find it very important to work with people and develop shit like that. For instance, Heaps Decent, where I was the administrator of this program–I wish I could do more things like that in America.

STATS: Tell us about Heaps Decent.

Diplo: Heaps Decent is a non-profit organization we have in Australia, we do workshops with kids. For me, I get a lot of sponsorship for shit–like let’s say Apple computers, or Ableton Live, where I only need one to do my shit–so if I can, I parlay these experiences to get more equipment for people who need it. The first time we did Heaps Decent 4 years ago, I got Apple to give us twenty computers, I got Ableton Live to give us a bunch of serial numbers, I got a bunch of USB keys. I was really influenced by this guy Morganics, who was doing really cool stuff in the outback, and I said: Look, I wanna do more rap music with these kids. So I brought the computers out there and gave them to my friend Andrew Levins and Nina “Las Vegas” is her nickname, they were the guys who helped me organize it, because they were the promoters for my shows in Australia four years ago. And we went way up in the north and did workshops up there. The government sponsored the plane trip, which was pretty expensive. I did a week of workshops, talking to them about making music, left everything there.

Like, people aren’t doing these things, it’s hard fucking work! I try my best with things like that, and still make records people care about, to help expose people to new music. So I’m an easy target, because I’m involved in music that’s not 100% what I’m from, but at the same time, I try my best to negotiate this process, and to make everything collaborative, and to make everybody aware of what’s going on. So I don’t feel any responsibility to any artist, but sometimes if I can do things for people, I definitely put my hand out there and open doors however I can.

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Eddie "STATS"

Imported from Detroit.

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