Sunday, 12 August 2007

Darkie

It was on my first trip to Burma in 2001 that I knew something was going on in a global cultural sense that I should try to understand. I was traveling light from one military checkpoint state to another when I saw the only sign of dissent in the whole country. It was a gang of youths dressed in cheap baseball hats and basketball vests playing of all things the unmistakable genre of Rap in Burmese. They were doing no harm but for sure they were saying things suck in Burma, and that's a fact because in Burma they really do.

I guess the reason for my incomprehension was that I didn't 'get' Hip Hop or Rap. I thought it was the lowest common denominator of music to dance to. Anyone could do it. A couple of gang gestures, a bobbing head and some Yo Yo exhortation meant that anyone was down with the bad asses. But it wasn't working for me. I couldn't see why people loved it so much and would frequently walk out of clubs in protest, as I always do if the music is rubbish.

Then I got some education.

Some years on from that Burma trip I was with some friends and invited to hang out in a bar on Royal City Avenue (RCA) in Bangkok called Hip Hop. The crowd were an unpretentious and friendly bunch and the music was really rather good when the DJ dropped a Diana Ross Hip Hop mix that blew me away and I knew what the problem was. I'd been listening to bad Hip Hop for all those years.

A conversation with a very smart DJ friend of mine helped also to clarify that Hip Hop was a culture, a movement and not just a genre of music and so now I have no problem hitting a bar for Hip Hop, but like all my music tastes I'm just a bit fussy about what I expose my ears too and need something that makes me think as well as feel.

Well yesterday I came across yet another brilliant Smashing Telly recommendation called The Hip Hop Years. The Origin of Hip Hop. Its on another level and sucked me in for the full 2 hours and 20 minutes 7 seconds. Its completely delicious and to ignore this fine documentary is probably on a par with ignoring the impact that Rock & Roll and Punk had on popular culture. Hip Hop is constantly reinventing, has embraced all genres of music from death metal to classical and brings young people together from the South Bronx to Burma.

But the reason for this post is that I've noticed something while globe trotting and parachute planning in a few countries. I've never come across an African or Afro Caribbean planner. There are plenty of great Indian marketing folk that I've worked with, but I'm starting to get the feeling that planning is predominantly a middle class, Indy music loving, Caucasian pursuit and that is most definitely not a good thing. As I've made clear elsewhere homogeneous advertising is made in homogeneous agencies. As far as I know only two three London planners have expressed an interest in the world's largest and fastest growing music genre and it leaves me asking a difficult question. Are we OK in advertising when it comes to rebranding a toothpaste from Darkie to Darlie but failing abysmally when it comes to black culture? Because if so, we are not representing.

Educate yourself and watch this seminal video.

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