Sampling, the future of Zimbabwean music

From time to time I will be sharing opinion pieces on various creative topics relating to Zimbabwe. This write-up focuses on SAMPLING.

By Plot Mhako | Chief Curator – earGROUND

This write-up focuses on SAMPLING.

What is Sampling? Sampling is the re-use of a portion of a sound recording (elements such as rhythm, melody & lyrics) in a new recording. An interpolation is when a portion of a song is used in another song, but instead of directly using the original recording, the portion is re-recorded. A remix is a unique work created by combining samples with other samples or by combining original contributions with one or more samples. There is a fine line that divides these terms so its easy for one to confuse or get mixed.

The tradition of sampling has literally shaped the music world and genres like hip hop and dancehall in a major way. In fact sampling has seen the creation of new music genres and styles through the years. Amapiano and Afrobeats music carry a lot of sampling and interpolations.

Music sampling is nothing new.It has been done since the 1970s. A lot of the international hits we know carry portions of samples or are complete works of sampling.

The phenomenon is growing in the ever-changing music industry and its getting even more fascinating owing to technology and social media. Last year alone 1 in 5 songs on the Billboard 100 contained samples. A report carried on Musically last year said that 48% of the songs on the Grammy-nominated releases for Best Rap Album include samples; 54% of the albums that charted on Billboard during 2021 contained samples from other previously released songs.

Sampling is looked at differently, others frown at it, they think it shows laziness on the part of producers and composers.

Zimbabwe is an interesting case study. The nation has a huge, unique and richly diverse catalogue of old but great music whose impact can still be felt today. If you spend a day listening to the biggest Radio station in the land (Radio Zimbabwe) you will notice that old music still rules the day. Even on the streets, the old playlist dominates across genres. This is the timeless music that invokes nostalgia and great memories.

The new crop of artists may need to deliberately dig deep, wide and far for this amazing content, creatively and legally sample it (secure the copyrights and credit). Just think of any great yesteryear song given a new lease of life or have small portions of melody, chorus, verse incorporated into a 2023 song by a young artist!?

One of the biggest hits globally from last year was Cold Heart by Elton John, Dua Lipa – Cold Heart. The song samples and re-fixes the 1989 Elton hit Sacrifice. The new song was brilliantly done to capture new audiences yet retaining a nostalgic and legendary feel. Burna Boy has had at least 10 major songs where he samples old songs from various artists. His most recent hit Last Last samples from Toni Braxton’s 2000 hit song He Wasn’t Man Enough.

I have heard and seen several local attempts to remake old songs but most of the efforts fall far short of creativity. There are some that were superbly done, look up for Maestro IV’s Majaivana Back which samples Badlala Njani.

Remember, if poorly done, sampling can easily be a turn off for the listeners especially fans of the original work (as they treasure and place great respect on the original song & artist).

Like I mentioned earlier, before sampling any part of someone’s creative work follow due processes, seek for the music rights. If the artist is deceased you can contact their legal estate or get information from the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association.

A lot of the “NEW” songs in Zimbabwe have samples taken from somewhere without any mention or consent. Sometime the artist or producer changes a few things, arrangement or just the language and they present that as new and their original work. That type of approach is disrespectful, unfortunate and limits the music to our very local audience. I could mention several of them, some that even became big hits that were just ripped from somewhere silently and presented to us as original works.

In Zimbabwe we do have a great old music catalogue and some of the songs or elements in songs deserve to be heard once more.

Globally sampling as tradition continues to create hit songs and great new music and if well done the music will sound refreshingly new, exciting to the new generation and very nostalgic to the old thereby creating a powerful cross generational impact.

Imagine Leo Magozz making a song with a sample from Wrist Brothers’ song Getu, Noluntu J sampling Lameck Moyo’s Rega Kusarira, Baba Harare sampling Max Mapfumo’s Wandikanya, Anita Jaxson sampling Susan Mapfumo’s Handitambwe Iyoyo, Takura sampling Andy Brown’s Sweet Chariot, Sanii Makhalima sampling Fanyana Dube’s Imali. I can go on and on and the list is endless. Endless with great possibilities.

However to make great songs with samples or interpolations, there is a need for young artists and producers to fully research the music history of this country. They need to fully embrace the value of the legacy and appreciate the heritage beyond the desire to make a quick hit. The original composers, their estate or family needs to fully consent and also benefit financially from the proceeds and royalties.

Imagine how big Burna Boy’s Last Last song has been and how much it is earning but the artist gives 60% of the royalties to Toni Braxton. This shows respect and value for the art and its creators.


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