Diplo responds to accusations of ‘cultural appropriation’ against Major Lazer
With accusations swirling around Major Lazer that they appropriated Indian culture with the music video for their smash collaboration with DJ Snake “Lean On” and, more broadly, for the group’s sound being heavily influenced by Caribbean genres such as dancehall, reggae, and soca, Diplo has now fired back with an official response. The über-producer spoke with NME on the topic, citing his adolescence growing up in a diverse section of Miami for his broad tastes in music, listening to all types of genres.
“When I grew up, no one told me what I was supposed to listen to. On the radio, Miami bass was always the thing for me, and heavy metal – that was big in Florida too. My parents listened to country. Rap was on the radio.”
He also invokes British band The Clash as the group most influential to Major Lazer. The group is considered to be one of the seminal acts of the first wave of British punk but are widely known for veering off into reggae, dub, funk, and ska. In regards to one of the band’s biggest, most enduring hits, Diplo went on to say, “Nobody said ‘You’re culturally appropriating’ when they made ‘Rock The Casbah’.”
The allegations that Major Lazer is usurping Caribbean sounds for their own purposes would seem to reveal a degree of ignorance in those who lob them at the group. Diplo is, of course, the longest tenured and most visible member — the producer is a legitimate superstar in his own solo career — however, he is flanked in Major Lazer by Jillionaire, a native Trinidadian, and Walshy Fire, a fellow Floridian of Jamaican heritage. Those who wish Major Lazer to change their sound strictly because Diplo is white in effect are also telling his partners not to pursue the sounds and genres from their own heritage.
The history of popular music is littered with artists of color being exploited and having their sound repurposed by white artists for consumption by white audiences. The very foundation of rock n’ roll, from the drum patterns to the I-IV-V chord progression, can be traced back to the blues played by Southern black musicians and their ancestors. It is naive and foolish to minimize the fundamental contributions that musicians of color have made to popular music and, indeed, deserve more.
In terms of Major Lazer, though, Diplo seems to only have a sincere desire to expose audiences to styles and genres that are, comparatively, under the radar. At the core of it, Diplo is just a fan of a diverse range of music and has the ability, connections, and clout to bring it — and the artists he collaborates with — to the top.