UNICEF gets it right in latest music collaboration

2015-02-04 15:28

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23 year old DJ/Producer RL Grime is well known on the international electronic music scene for explosive trap hits and high-tech videos. But in his latest video offering, for a track called “Always”, Grime has partnered with UNICEF to create a heart-wrenching and elegant video that brings attention to their campaign around child marriage in Chad.


Before watching the video, I was cynical about the concept. After all, a lot of artist-awareness collaborations often end up as a string of stereotypes about Africa tied together by some ostensibly moving lyrics. This is certainly not the case here. UNICEF has partnered their expert knowledge and longstanding research with RL Grime’s popular following to create a campaign which is both informative and innovative.

The track itself is far more down tempo than a lot of Grime’s other work. It features only a single lyric, repeated intermittently over a smooth synth-driven sound, more trip hop than trap. And instead of a parade of famous faces committed to singing for the Africans across the sea, the narrative of the video is complex and detailed. This is probably because it was conceived of by a legitimate organization, rather than another touchy feely project for Bono’s list.

Child marriage is high on the agenda for UNICEF. The organization has canvassed the globe and beyond to give a voice to the girls and boys married as young as the age of 8. Social factors such as family honour, economic incentive and ‘protection’ for the family are high up among the reasons for child marriage, and the video subtly deals with these issues. The story follows one girl and the two possible outcomes she could experience: a child marriage which so often ends tragically or the possibilities presented to her if education is made a priority. There are no outstretched begging hands, no kwashiorkor kids, and no foreign intervention efforts, besides for UNICEF’s continued interventions and policy changes.

It’s a nice narrative change from the ghastly saviour orgy that was the 2014 version of Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas?” Instead, the video’s less banal narrative suggests that the solutions will come from the community itself.

According to Grime, the video is intended to push the idea of local solutions, but he believes that international awareness is important too. "Before UNICEF approached me, I was unaware of this epidemic of child marriage that is plaguing Chad and other places globally," said Grime in an interview with Magnetic Magazine, "So when they came to me with the opportunity I was happy to be involved and help shed light on a very real world topic."

This is a breath of fresh air for African and international viewers alike. While other 23 year old artists are counting records sold, and planning international tours, artists like Grime are presenting a sensitive and socially conscious face in the world of electronic music. Grime has released the song and video as the primary single on his album VOID. Grime describes the track as “sombre yet uplifting” and says that he believes this fits with the theme of the video, and the issue at hand, in that the situation can be turned around. This was an incredibly smart campaign move on UNICEF’s part.

Instead of data-heavy PSAs, they have successfully paired their efforts with trendy artists who have real social sway. This is an important precedent, in trying to get aid organizations to move with the times. The video is gaining major acclaim, and recently appeared on HighSnobiety’s list of Top 5 must-see videos.

The video has since been endorsed by the First Lady of Chad, and will be used as part of campaigns by the African Union, in partnership with UNICEF.

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