Hungarian folk artist Mitsou released the song 'Bajba, Bajba Pelem' with her band Ando Drom in the ninetees and claims in her lawsuit that Beyoncé illegally appropriated her music for the song 'Drunk in Love'. The lawsuit states that Mitsou's vocals have been “digitally manipulated” and that they have been used to 'evoke foreign eroticism alongside the sexually intense lyrics performed by Beyoncé and Jay Z” without Mitsou's permission. 'Drunk In Love' recently earned Beyoncé two of her six nominations for the 2015 Grammy Awards, for best R&B performance and best R&B song.
It's not the first time that music from unknown non-Western artists or traditions have been appropriated by popular artists without permission or recognition. In Deep Forest's 'Sweet Lullaby' for example, a sample was used from a traditional Baegu lullaby called 'Rorogwela' from the Solomon Islands. This song which was originally recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugo Zemp in the Solomon Islands in 1971.
Another example would be Herbie Hancock’s jazz-rock hit 'Watermelon Man' from 1973, where samples in the introduction come from a recording from the Central African Republic in the sixties. Hancock neither credited this sound element to the Ba-Benzélé Pygmies, nor were the original producers able to participate in the success of the piece in any way.
Clearing rights is not always straightforward because the original artists may have passed away or a song might be part of a common heritage, but this should not stop artists and producers from treating music of non-Western artists or communities as an easy way to reinvigorate their work and to which laws of the music industry do not apply. While some legaly problematic cases have been resolved, there are still plenty of original artists which are left uncredited and unrewarded. Whether this has been the case in Beyoncé's 'Drunk In Love' remains to be seen until the lawsuit is over.
If you want to hear more about Mitsou's work, she appears on one of our Rough Guides: The Rough Guide To Hungarian Gypsies.You can also listen to the song from which the excerpt in 'Drunk in Love' has supposedly been taken 'Bajba, Bajba Pelem' in the YouTube video below.
The sample in 'Drunk in Love' can be heard for approximately a minute and a half throughout the entire song.