Billion Dollar BLING - Diamonds in Sierra Leone

Will Glass, one of over 30 Word Up Community Bookshop Volunteers (a non-profit)

Will Glass, one of over 30 Word Up Community Bookshop Volunteers (a non-profit)

We went to Word Up Community Bookshop in Washington Heights for the screening of the 2007 documentary BLING - A Planet Rock, written and directed by  filmmaker, writer, and journalist Raquel Cepeda as part of their 'Projections' series. Bling follows hip-hop's own Raekwon & Paul Wall, as well as reggaeton star Tego Calderón on their April 2006 voyage to Sierra Leone to gain insight into the country's diamond export industry. 

Highlights include Raekwon's soulful rendition of Sam Cooke's 'Change Gone Come'. Features include Kanye West - where he discusses Q-Tip's influence for his Grammy award winning 'Diamonds from Sierra Leone' - and even Jacob "The Jeweler" Arabo makes a cameo. 

My chain: these ain't conflict diamonds
"Is they Jacob? Don't lie to me, man"

See, a part of me saying: "Keep shining"
How? When I know what a blood diamond is

Though it's thousands of miles away
Sierra Leone connects to what we go through today

I certainly remember hearing the terms "conflict diamond" and "blood diamond" years ago, but I had never been exposed to what that meant. Bling displays unfiltered footage of the 10 year Civil War (1991-2001), including stops along the way to National Commission for War Affected Children and the Resettlement Camp for amputees. Caution: For some, these scenes may be difficult to watch. For me, it was not because I was more interested in learning about the experiences of truly spiritual champions that overcame domestic terrorism (at the hands of rebels and the government), sexual abuse, and mutilation.

Good morning, this ain't Vietnam still
People lose hands, legs, arms, for real

Little was known on Sierra Leone
And how it connect to the diamonds we own

Listening and watching Ishmael Beah describe his transition from child warrior to college graduate (he was adopted by a family here in New York) was simply astounding. He eventually wrote a book about his life called A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.

As truths are revealed, you can almost feel (and definitely understand) remorse on the part of rappers Raekwon and Paul Wall. They were surprised to learn how American hip-hop in the 90's coincided with the rebels' gun-toting and violent lifestyles. As they mention in the film, their music's intent was to "testify" not "glorify". 

The film end's on a more lighthearted note though. I won't give it way but let's just say Raekwon was the first American rap star to rock the mic in Sierra Leone!

From Raekwon's 2009 interview with Format Mag:

"I even had the opportunity to go inside and see how they live. We got furniture in our house, some places ain't even have nothing but the fucking concrete and the rug. A dirty rug, just four walls. Just shit like that that just pisses me off, you know what I mean? One person will spend a million dollars on some other shit but won't put a million dollars into something that may change the world that may make you even more legendary." 

So what of diamonds in Sierra Leone today in 2014? Well, it just so happens a $6 Million Diamond being unearthed was reported this week! 

Oh yeah...& the World Bank is in the process of "mapping out" Africa's remaining resources. The project, dubbed the Billion Dollar Map, "will unlock the true worth of Africa's mineral endowment," Tom Butler, mining specialist at the Bank's private finance arm, the International Finance Corp., said on February 5, 2014. "There is yet an enormous amount of wealth left to discover," he said. Oh, I'm certain there is - I just pray more conflict isn't yet to come as a result of the West's obsession with the Motherland's rich resources. As part of it's history, even Africa's humans seem to be a precious commodity. Let us all do our part to not lose sight of that.

Bling: A Planet Rock (Behind the Scenes Footage with Raquel Cepeda)

WATCH BLING: A Planet Rock on iTunes

READ Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone

CONNECT with Hip Hop Smithsonian!

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