Diplo: The latest white musician to misrepresent Pakistan

Diplo: The latest white musician to misrepresent Pakistan

The Grammy-nominated DJ came to Islamabad to play a show for the elite and later uploaded a picture of himself in a slum
Updated 04 Mar, 2016

When Coldplay decided to use India as the fascinating backdrop for their music video recently, the band rubbed many the wrong way.

Grammy-nominated DJ Diplo managed to reignite more or less the same debate when he flew down to Islamabad last weekend for a performance; the electronic music producer was apparently overcome with emotion at the end of his 24 hour trip in the capital.

While I'd love to brush the above off as "just a Facebook post" or "good intentions that are poorly executed", we can't deny the west's legacy of representing South Asian countries in a way that's more condescending than accurate.

Diplo, the humanitarian

Comments on the post range from him being praised for selflessly spreading love "where most wouldn't dare to go" to his show being the "beginning of a new era" in Pakistan.

From Diplo's post, it seems pretty clear that he feels his concert could create a hope for change where none existed before: "For these kids from Islamabad Lahore or Karachi or the countryside this is the first time they have ever done that and it might not happen again for a long time. But tonight everyone danced and sang together and wished for a better future and maybe it might make it easier for it to happen."

Reading this by Diplo, I can't help but feel that under the savior white man's gaze, we will always be an exotic playground, full of slums, poor infrastructure and no outlets for leisure, a place where they can pop over for a a day or two to give us poor souls fleeting moments of elation.

Let me get one thing straight: concerts are not isolated, alien events in Pakistan. We may not have music festivals happening on a Tomorrowland scale and sure, they've dwindled over time but they're far from dead and we're not completely deprived of any form of entertainment.

Despite our circumstances, millennial Pakistanis are resilient and an adaptive bunch; we make our own fun.

And you know who's not underprivileged in the least, like he's painted them out to be? The kids who attended his gig. At tickets ranging between Rs. 5,000-Rs.10,000 a pop, Diplo doesn't get to put a benevolent spin on playing a pre-recorded playlist for us so we could feel better about our entitled lives.

For a musician, he sure delivers a tone-deaf narrative and for someone who has a reach that goes beyond just an ordinary Joe expressing his feelings on social media, he really is carelessly ignorant with the way he uses his words.

Just to put things into perspective: Diplo has over 2.5 million likes on his Facebook page
Just to put things into perspective: Diplo has over 2.5 million likes on his Facebook page

The most Pakistani thing here is our reaction

That being said, I'll be the first to admit it: the backlash to Diplo's post may not be coming from the sincerest place in our hearts either.

As people belonging to the middle-to-upper echelons of society, we are offended by slums and the thought of being treated like we're not well-travelled. We're hurt by Diplo's portrayal of his time in Pakistan because his impression of the country doesn't reflect our elite status — instead, it shows off a side to the country that we'd rather not have unveiled.

How dare he presume that this was probably the first time the audience had experienced something like that and announce it to the world? Didn't he know that some of them caught him playing live in Ibiza or Vegas last summer?

Still, we're upset not only because he misrepresented electronica-loving Pakistanis but also because he misrepresented his own time here. He clearly hung out with the 'cool kids', not people living in slum housing, probably stayed in a swanky hotel and after all that, he felt like "crying" because the kids from "the countryside" were EDM concert newbies?

How could he possibly deduce all that he claims to have experienced from his minimal, seemingly comfortable experience? No pictures from Serena or Sakura or Monal, which would have been more believable rather than this one, which does nothing but fetishize our underdevelopment.

He had the chance to show people the side of Pakistan that isn't a tearjerker, that the Western media turns a blind eye to, and he blew it.

Let's not forget that Diplo isn't the first international artist to come perform in Pakistan
Let's not forget that Diplo isn't the first international artist to come perform in Pakistan

To put up one photo on his Facebook, the biggest social media network out there, from the city that's probably prettier than most others in the country and have it be this, him posing in front of a run-down area? It just seems too calculated for comfort. You know what the picture was really missing? A terrorist in the background -- hey, I take my stereotypes seriously.

All this leaves me to wonder: after Diplo, who's next? Which other white entertainer is going to show up in Pakistan and take his rightful place as Gora: The Explorer?