Over the weekend I read a really good piece in the new issue of Word magazine written by Eamonn Forde that detailed some of the more famed musical “squabbles” when it’s discovered that an artist has “ripped off” another artist, usually by sampling them without permission. The most recent example mentioned in the piece was a supposed Eddy Grant sample to be found in the recent Gorillaz single Stylo.
Other examples include Enya who was famously sampled by The Fugees, and of course The Verve’s use of a Rolling Stones piece.
But the article was mostly about the compensation that artists can and do demand, with the preference being for song writing credits as opposed to a lump sum.
I was thinking again about this when I was reading today about the story behind the new Shakira song that’s been adopted by FIFA as the official anthem of World Cup in South Africa. As this piece explains – along with a whole series of other similar tales – the song is “derived” from a Cameroonian song popular in the army, but recorded in the 80s by a band made up of military members. It was enormously popular. Indeed, as this piece explains, it’s been used a lot in both Africa and Latin America.
Now I may be late to the game here (I had no idea until last night that 1. James Corden has recorded a World Cup song and 2. it’s reached number one. I should say in my defence that it was simply a case of not reaching the remote control fast enough after last night’s game between Germany and Australia) but this was all news to me.
Anyway, it’s all well and good hearing about these, but something nobody’s yet explained to me is this:
Why do artists continue to do it?
With the internet, iTunes, YouTube, sites like whosampled.com, and anybody being just an email away from spilling the beans, you simply can’t get away with sampling or re-recording someone else’s work without being caught. Did Shakira’s people really think nobody in Cameroon would notice? The song’s been very popular across the whole continent by all accounts.
To be honest, the Eddy Grant question is a little more interesting as to my non-musicologist’s ears, it’s the same four or five notes in both songs and not a direct sample as such. I’m not sure where a song is unique or is just a collection of different notes. But nonetheless, if I was Gorillaz, I’d still expect Eddy Grant to ask the question. He’s not a musical “nobody”.