Tracing a sample to its source…

Bands like Deep Forest make me feel a little sick… but I have respect for this guy – he used the same vocal sample as a Deep Forest song Sweet Lullaby (the sample was originally recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugo Zemp in the Solomon Islands back in 1971) for a non-commercial viral video & eventually decided to go & find the source of the sample, and in so doing met the family of the original singer:

There are more details of his trip here

“Everyone on Malaita knows the “Sweet Lullaby” song. They’ve heard it on the radio. Patrick confirmed that, at least to his knowledge, no one has ever received any kind of payment for use of the recording in an international hit pop song or its reuse in – ahem – a fairly popular internet video. Everyone is vaguely aware that some sort of payment is warranted, but no one has any idea what to do about it. And that’s how things have stayed for 15 years.”

Sadly, this tale is not unique, quoting from a very interesting article “Hunters and (Sample) Gatherers, problems of trans-cultural appropriation in contemporary electronic music” by Christian Höller:

“The ethnomusicologist Steven Feld also has a few such tales to tell. For example, the one about the copy of a vocal and whistling part that was recorded in the sixties in the Central African Republic and cropped up again in 1973 in Herbie Hancock’s jazz-rock hit »Watermelon Man«. Hancock neither credits this sound element to the Ba-Benzélé Pygmies, from whose music it comes, nor were the original producers able to participate in the success of the piece in any way – something Hancock shrugs off with a set phrase of legitimation: “A brothers kind of thing – a thing for brothers to work out.” But even beyond the orbit of Afro-American music, where claims to a diasporic counter-modernity are always being made, samples from the music of Central African rainforest dwellers are extremely popular. For example, in the productions of the French duo Deep Forest, some of whose most important resources are ethnomusicological recordings. The Pygmies, for instance, serve Deep Forest (and others) as an almost cynical projection surface: “Somewhere deep in the jungle are living some little men and women.They are your past; maybe they are your future, they say.”
The story of the piece »Sweet Lullaby«, which is also recapitulated by Steven Feld, is particularly characteristic. In the years 1969/1970, the ethnomusicologist Hugo Zemp made recordings on the Solomon Islands in the Pacific. These included a lullaby sung by a member of the Baegu tribe called Afunakwa.The vocal sample, reissued in 1990 on a UNESCO CD, found its way into the studio of Deep Forest, among others. Enswathed in sugary synthesizer sounds and provided with a leisurely swaying dance beat, the a-cappella piece mutated into »Sweet Lullaby«, Deep Forest’s first big world hit and subsequently the background music for countless advertisements. Zemp, who had been the first to bring this recording within the audio horizon of the West, raised an objection to the use of this and other samples. Here, too, a long debate ensued about the legitimate usage of ethnic sound material, a debate that has not yet led to any unanimous solution.Whereas one side – the commercially successful one – claims that its respectful care of the great cultural traditions of the world promotes global harmony, the other side – the academic, critical one – can only respond by shaking its head with ethical demean, maintaining that this alleged respect is nothing more than a primitivist caricature of old colonial attitudes, that the hunt for samples simply does not take any claims to copyright seriously, and that not a single cent of the profit gained by the culture industry flows back to the cultures that have been sampled.This all clearly illustrates a power set-up in which the airy-fairy talk about supposedly democratized or democratizing world music seems like sheer mockery.”

It appears Deep Forest made their money & then disappeared – I had to use the Way Back Machine to even find any info about them & their feeble attempts at gaining rights to use the sample that drives Sweet Lullaby: h ave a read here

5 thoughts on “Tracing a sample to its source…

  1. Jamie

    Interesting-something I’ve thought about and wondered myself as I’ve gone through my world heritage records, plundering at will; who does own the rights? The recordist? The label/publisher? The original musician(s)?
    And in that, was there any compensative measurements taken by ethnomusicologists towards their subjects? If the complaint is that individuals who sample and re-contextualize these recordings are making money off of the musicians, couldn’t it be safe to say that ethnomusicologists are possibly guilty of the same? Those records weren’t FREE, and even if they made no money from selling the recordings, can it be argued that they were rewarded in other compensatory ways, such as academically (which in turn could have buttered their bread)?
    I certainly don’t defend deep forest, as they do seem a bit hypocritical-i mean, it sounds as if they didn’t expect to get caught, then scrambled around to justify it-but it seems that I can always accuse the ethnomusicologists of the same foul of ‘colonialism’.
    That said, maybe the more appropriate model would have been, cite your source, try to clear the rights (working in archival work in a University, I know how painstaking that can be on old ethnographic material), and then when the money starts rolling in, find ways to donate back through the original community though whatever means possible, or other possible charity like Oxfam.
    Great post, Tim. Good thing to think about, especially as found sound producers, collage-artists and sample jockeys start having to dig even deeper for sounds.

  2. Pingback: Music of Sound » Afunakwa

  3. Zulma Lobato

    Esto me huele a resentimiento y envidia.
    Nadie se puso a pensar que el tema pudo haber pasado inadvertido, haber sido un fracaso, y no el éxito que fué. Si hubiese sido así, alguien habría dicho algo al respecto?. Además, no es cualquier temita de morondanga. Es una canción de muy fina elaboración melódica, armónica y en cuanto a los arreglos y la produción. Un DJ de boliche jamás compondría algo semejante.
    Por otro lado, me consta que, a donde Eric y Michel fueron, formaron e impulsaron una gran cantidad de artistas y, no dudo que les hallan pagado por su colaboración.
    Son, de verdad, buenos tipos y humildes, para lo grandiosos músicos que son. Y, algo que no es menor, siempre trataron con mucho respeto al 3er mundo, cosa que no se estila hoy por hoy.
    La difusión masiva que toda esa gente recibió gracias al proyecto Deep Forest nunca la hubiesen recibido de otra manera.

    1. tim Post author

      via google translate: “This smells like resentment and envy.
      Nobody was thinking that the issue may have gone unnoticed, having been a failure, not success it was. If it had been, someone would have said something about it?. Furthermore, there is any temita of morondanga. It’s a very fine song melodic development, harmonic and as to the arrangements and the production. A bowling DJ ever compose something similar.
      On the other hand, I know that, where Eric and Michel were formed and led a lot of artists do not doubt that they are paid for your cooperation.
      They are, in fact, nice guys, humble, for what great musicians they are. And, something that is not minor, always treated with great respect to the 3rd world, something that it is unusual today.
      Mass distribution that all these people received from the project Deep Forest never have received otherwise.”

      And in response: Deep Forest made serious money using that sample as the hook. They should PAY FOR IT!!!!

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