The marching band I play in met to talk about cultural appropriation and music last night. We did a lot of background reading to prepare for the discussion, and from that I put together a short presentation of songs which demonstrated this phenomenon. If you somehow had no idea that this sort of thing happened all the time, I promise your jaw will drop at least once while watching these.
For reference, here’s a useful definition of cultural appropriation.
“Kill whitey” parties organized by white hipsters in Brooklyn (2005)
“Return to Innocence” by Enigma (1994)
- See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rk_sAHh9s08
- Uncredited backing vocals taken from “Jubilant Drinking Song” by Kuo Ying-nan and Kuo Hsiu-chu.
- Drum track from “When the levee breaks” by Led Zeppelin.
- No royalties were paid to Kuo Ying-nan and Kuo Hsiu-chu until they won a 1998 lawsuit.
“Ain’t no new thing” by Gil Scott-Heron (1972)
“Amen, Brother”, an instrumental cover song by The Winstons (1969)
- Listen to the song
- This four-measure drum solo played by Gregory Coleman has been extensively sampled by hiphop and techno musicians.
- More on the story
- Examples of songs
- Coleman died in poverty 2006 without ever having received royalties for the use of his recording.
- Co-written and first recorded by Little Richard (1955)
- Covered that year by Pat Boone, whose version sold more records
“Shake Rattle & Roll”
- Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
- First recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952
- Made famous by a then-unknown Elvis Presley in 1956
“Mbube” by Solomon Linda & The Evening Birds (1939)
- Hear the song
- Covered as “Wimoweh” by Pete Seeger and other folk artists in North American in the 1950’s. Seeger credited Linda and sent songwriting royalties to him.
- Made famous as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens (1961)
- The Tokens wrote new English words for the song, and did not credit Linda or pay him in his lifetime. Solomon Linda died in poverty in 1962. All royalties from film licensing were paid to Warner Bros and The Tokens until 2006 when Linda’s hiers won a suit for royalties against Disney for using it in The Lion King.
- Many of the characters of “The Lion King” were taken from the 1960’s Japanese animated television series “Kimba the White Lion”. Disney did not give credit or pay royalties, and the Japanese studio declined to sue, saying that they could not afford the legal battle.
Blackface minstrel shows
- See an example
- White artists dressing as stereotypical black minstrel singers were popular from about 1830-1930, when black artists weren’t welcome to perform for white audiences.
- See an example
- Traditional Balinese religious chant developed in the 1930’s by Indonesian artist Wayan Limbak and German painter Walter Spies into a dance performance that could appeal to foreigners
Turkish Janissary marches
- See an example
- These loud brass marching bands heavily inspired European military music, especially in Austria
- Black musicians learnt to play European military music while serving in the US Civil War, and this musical knowldge, together with ragtime, Black sacred music, and rural blues, were combined in New Orleans around 1900 by musicians like Buddy Bolden to create jazz.
Many more examples are listed on Wikipedia.