The Cultural Relevance Of Music Samples In Legacy Preservation

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Naomi Overo

The year is 2015, and Skin Tight, Mr Eazi’s smash hit featuring Efya, rules the airwaves. Mr Eazi would go on to become the pioneer of Banku music, a genre he describes as a fusion of Nigerian chord patterns and progressions and Ghanian highlife. Then, in 2019, Dami Oniru dropped her album Bri’s Lounge comprising seven tracks including her hit song, See featuring Remy Baggins. Dami’s sensational delivery of the song was more than captivating, but when I listened to her belt out the lyrics; “It’s bubbling, ko ma bubble…,” a wave of nostalgia washed over me. The R&B singer had sampled Raise Da Roof, a 2004 record by Jazzman Olofin and the legendary Adewale Ayuba. Fast forward to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic where Amapiano is the rave of the moment. This ‘new’ sound, characterised by wide percussive basslines and high pitched piano melodies; with South African origins, has made its way into Nigeria and is now the framework for numerous hit songs including Kilofese by Zinoleesky and Davido’s club banger Champion Sound. Dami’s See specifically as well as Banku music and Amapiano are just a few examples of stylistic reinventions of existing music and genres.

Contrary to popular opinion, creativity does not emanate from thin air, and is, in fact, a product of several influences, either consciously or unconsciously. Many subgenres and even genres of music are a combination of pre-existing genres that serve as an inspirational blueprint. Music is inseparable from history, existing as a continuous art created to serve generations to come, both as a form of entertainment and a source of inspiration. And as such, to successfully transcend time, music relies on the present-day references of fans and artists alike in the present day. Sampling in music is the bridge between the gap of nostalgia and the new wave, bringing to light an elemental bond between contemporary artists and their predecessors or even fellow contemporary artists. This phenomenon is an undisputed form of creativity that helps artists capture the timelessness of music as they use already existing music or genres to fuel their artistic process.

Despite the legitimate case for music samples as an expression of creativity, the reception to sampled music is quite selective. There are instances where the audience forms their opinions based on who is doing the sampling instead of the quality of work. In certain camps, there is a perception that artists who often sample music are less creative, lazy, or lack originality. However, music sampling is a more content-specific form of influence that should never be mistaken for copying or lifting. As Teddywestside, producer, and artist, rightly puts it, “Sampling is in no way lazy, and at the end of the day, the end justifies the means. The most important thing is creating music that can resonate with people, whether or not a portion of it is influenced or sampled.”

The sampling process is an art in itself, which often requires artists to flip the elements to fit new music in a different context. Every element of a song is sample material – melodies, lyrics, and even rhythms – and can be engineered – looped, layered, slowed down, sped up, or equalized – to suit its new context. Breaking down the art of music sampling, producer TMX0 tells Culture Custodian;

“Music is typically a reference of one billion and one things, so it’s like you have this large pool you can take out from. There’s nothing new, and many times, music is based on our lived experiences and environments, and who says those experiences cannot include music that we’ve heard at one point in time or the other? As a monolith, music listeners consume almost the same content, but people interpret differently, and music is always open to interpretations.”

Nigerian music has various genres, from Afrobeats, Afropop, Alte, Fuji to Highlife. In addition, modern-day Nigerian artists have also been able to master and incorporate genres like R&B, Hip-hop, Rap, and even Electronic music – popularly called Afro-EDM – which were previously viewed as western. These many variations give room for the interpolation of older music that has been interpreted to fit the artist’s sensibilities. In 2014, Jesse Jagz released The Window, a Hip-hop/Rap track featured on his Jagz Nation Vol. 2: Royal Niger Company Album. The hook of the song performed by Jumar was slowed down and sampled by Tay Iwar and Asa in their 2021 rendition of Yoga. Odunsi, a key player in the Alté music community, put his spin on the Hip-hop group Ruff Rugged N Raw’s hit single from 2005 – Wetin Dey when he dropped Better Days/Wetin Dey in 2019. 

Still, a massive catalogue of existing Nigerian and African music from legends like Victor Uwaifo, King Sunny Ade, Onyeka Onwenu, Oliver De Coque, Salawa Abeni, Christy Essien-Igbokwe, amongst others, remains untapped to a large extent. Considering the abundance of musical influences to choose from, sampling in the Nigerian music industry should be more commonplace than it is today. Teddywestside believes more artists should get on board since “Sampling and interpreting songs from previous eras into contemporary music preserves the legacy of such songs by introducing them to a younger generation of listeners.”

Music sampling does not discredit the creativeness of an artist. Being able to flip a portion of a song – lyrics, beat, rhythm – so it fits a contemporary style is an art on its own. Sampling is a practical way to preserve music, paying homage to predecessors who have set the pace for present-day artists. Being an artist does not mean you have to create something entirely new. Freaky, Santi’s 2019 hit featuring Nonso Amadi has elements of the 2009 classic, Shoobeedoo by Ikechukwu, even though both songs sound nothing alike at first listen. To create new art, one does not need to start from scratch; reinventions and recreations are just as good. 

Naomi Overo is a cultural writer, avid reader, and part-time musichead. She lives in Abuja where she enjoys hiding out in cafes and documenting the lives of young Nigerians

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