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Major Lazer’s Diplo: ‘Nobody tells The Clash you’re culturally appropriating’

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Diplo, one third of electronic music group Major Lazer, has spoken out against accusations of cultural appropriation, saying that music would be “fucking boring” if no artists drew from other musical traditions.

Dancehall-reggae-influenced Major Lazer have come under fire for the video to their 2015 hit Lean On, featuring MO and DJ Snake, which was accused of cultural appropriation for exploiting and misrepresenting Indian culture, much like Coldplay and Beyonce’s Hymn For The Weekend video.

Music producer Diplo dismissed accusations of cultural appropriation (Omar Vega/AP/PA)

Speaking to NME magazine, Â Diplo – real name Thomas Wesley Pentz – said his varied sound was a response to growing up in southern Florida listening to Miami bass, heavy metal, country music and rap.

He said: “When I grew up, no one told me what I was supposed to listen to. I grew up and I loved music. I didn’t think: ‘Oh, I’m white, I’ve got to play a guitar.’

“I never had a guitar. I really fucked that up. I only had turntables. I wish I got a guitar, then I wouldn’t have so much criticism.

“For me, the band that’s most influential to us is The Clash. Nobody said, ‘You’re culturally appropriating’, when they made Rock The Casbah.

“I think what makes a great artist is someone who can change the direction of music, not someone who stays the same all the time. Otherwise music would be so fucking boring.”

The band – also made up of  Trinidadian DJ Jillionaire and Miami DJ Walshy Fire – offered Lean On first to Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both turned it down, before releasing it themselves.

Jillionaire, Walshy Fire and Diplo of Major Lazer (Jenn Five/NME)

Their move was indicative of the direction in the music industry they had spotted when Beyonce first sampled their 2009 track Pon De Floor on 2011′s Run The World: Â the power of the big-name pop star has lost its currency.

Diplo explained: “We felt like any song we did would be bigger with a Beyonce or a Nicki Minaj on it. I’m a producer at heart, but I realised that it’s way better to do it ourselves.

“I think the power of the superstar has significantly gone down in the last 10 years. I’ve always worked in an industry where your goal is to give it to the biggest star. That’s gone now.

Justin and Diplo on stage (Matt Sayles/AP/PA)

“I tried to shop that record around and people didn’t understand it. Now, every song on the radio sounds like Lean On.”

Justin Bieber is the latest artist to collaborate with them – on number one track Cold Water – after they decided to become “trendsetters on the radio”.

“We realised that no one’s got an edge with reggae and dancehall, and it’s such a massive undercurrent,” he said.

Read the full interview in your free copy of NME magazine this Friday.

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