Hip hop artists are symbols of glamour, and one way they promote that image is by wearing diamonds. Lots and lots of diamonds! Critics say the allure of the precious gems often blinds them to the connection between their jewelry and suffering of others…in this case, the suffering of Africans. Often, the money from the sale of the diamonds goes to finance years of civil war, such as the conflict that recently ended in West Africa. These diamonds have come to be known as “conflict diamonds,” or, more graphically, “blood diamonds.”
A new documentary called Bling follows a couple of American hip hop artists as they visit Sierra Leone to see for themselves what the term “blood diamonds” really means.
Many young people know the term “bling,” which is slang for the elaborate jewelry worn mostly by hip hop artists. It’s also the subject of a new documentary film focusing on the relationship between the gems mined in areas of conflict, or “blood diamonds,” and hip hop music and culture.
Produced with funding from the UNDP, the film features popular hip hop artists on a journey to African diamond mines to get a feel for how the diamond trade affects those who mine the stones.
The objective of the film is to give a voice and face to the millions of diamond diggers who work each day in the mines for very little money. Most of the money goes to middle-men or large companies who purchase the gems and sell it for huge profits.
Kanye West is a popular hip hop musician who recently had a hit with a re-mix of the old Shirley Bassey song from the James Bond film, “Diamonds are Forever.” He says that the irony surrounding the bling culture is lost on many people in the western world who wear the diamonds .He says that, “Its just so ironic that what makes people feel so empowered is completely destroying other black people”
Hip hop artists who included Pall Wall and Raekown from the Wu-Tang Clan, reggaeton artist Tego Calderon, visited slums and amputee camps and were surprised at the plight of people who were affected by the war funded by the blood diamonds. Paul Wall is a Texas rapper who popularized the image of diamond encrusted teeth – called “grillz.” In the film, he says he was shocked at what he saw.
“ Where we grew up…its like growing up with a silver spoon compared to this…and I grew up broke”
Irena Mihova, a Specialist for UNDP who worked with the film artists in Sierra Leone says that the artists were amazed at what they saw and it touched their lives,“Each of them was touched but in a different way and they express it in a different way”
Paul Wall expressed the need for the diggers to be trained how to process their diamonds and be able to sell them for the most profits, instead of the current system which exploits them.
“If anyone can teach them how to cut the diamond, polish the diamond and mold the diamond into something of value more than a shining piece of rock…then they can restore the whole nation” quote).”
The artists in the film Bling promise to promote “conscientious consumerism”, using the power and influence of hip hop music to encourage the use of "clean" diamonds.” Bling also aims to keep Sierra Leone in the global spotlight as a success story for UN peacemaking efforts.