How sampling fuelled the growth of the Nigerian music culture (2)

Nigeria? Everywhere, sample.

Flavour’s Nwa Baby (Ashawo Remix) became an instant hit in 2011. Flavour had actually sampled another song, Sawale by Rex Lawson. Sawale was released in the 1960s. The Nigerian music industry is constantly proliferated by music samples. Lagbaja’s Gra Gra was sampled in Davido’s If. Kojo Funds and Abra Cadabra’s Dun Talkin was sampled in Davido’s Fall. Wizkid’s Caro was sampled in Yemi Alade’s Johnny. More recently, Rema sampled Jay-Z’s classic, Death of the President (a song with samples from Lonnie Liston Smith’s A Garden of Peace) in his Alien.

Remarkably, Nigeria’s alte movement has been on top of sampling. In Take Me Home Lady Donli sampled D’Banj’s Mo Gbono Feli Feli. Aylo sampled George Benson’s Affirmation in Gardens. Odunsi’s version of Wetin Dey sampled Ruff, Rugged and Raw’s version.

Foreign acts have also sampled Nigerian music. British rock band, Coldplay, dropped their eight studio album, Everyday Life, in November 2019. According to The Guardian Life, “the ingenious blend of sounds from different cultures solidifies the notion that music is indeed spiritual”.

Everyday Life featured three tracks that were inspired and infused with Nigerian sounds: Arabesque, Champion Of The World and Eko. Eko hails Lagos and features Tiwa Savage. Champion Of The World interestingly begins with an Igbo gospel hymn intro. The sample is from Harcourt Whyte’s song titled Otuto Nke Chukwu N’ojija Aha Ya. In his time, Harcourt Whyte performed sacred compositions and earned the title of “father of Igbo church music”. Finally, Arabesque featured horn sections and an overall Afrobeat groove from Femi Kuti and his band. Ultimately, Fela Kuti is sampled in the outro. The legendary Afrobeats pioneer chanted the following three times:

Everywhere, Fela.

The most sampled artist in Nigeria’s history is unarguably Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The examples are too numerous to detail. Some of this decade’s greatest hits are said to be “inspired” by the afrobeat legend. Wizkid, on Jaiye Jaiye sampled Fela’s Lady, Oritsefemi’s Double Wahala sampled Fela’s Confusion Break Bones. In Ye, Burna Boy sampled Fela’s Sorrow, Tears and Blood. Wizkid’s Sweet Love sampled Fela’s Shakara. Beyond these obvious examples, international acts like J-Cole, Nas, Bilal and Missy Elliot have sampled Fela in identifiable tracks.

The concern in Nigeria regarding the sampling of Fela’s music is more moral than legal – that is, whether it is within the original context of socio-political advocacy. Ayomide O. Tayo of gives examples in his article. According to him, the song Temper remix by Skales and Burna Boy is an interpolation of Sorrow, Tears and Blood by Fela Kuti.

The original version was notably inspired by a tragic event in the artist’s life. However, the latest version was distorted to reflect the artists’ idea of having a fun time.

Indeed, this happens a lot in Nigeria’s music space. In 2019, Naira Marley altered lyrics from Fela’s 1978 Shuffering and Shmiling to fit them into Am I A Yahoo Boy. According to The Conversation, for a song that is considered a subtle promotion of internet scams, using Fela’s lyrics came across somewhat as a negative. Ayomide further noted that on the contrary, Falz’s fourth solo album titled Moral Instruction which repeatedly features samples from Fela Anikulapo Kuti “does not stray from Fela’s ethos”.

At its album launch, Falz noted that Moral Instruction was more than an album. Apparently, “it is a movement, a re-education and a re-orientation. It is us learning and unlearning some things. Quite obviously, we have lost a plot as a people, as a country.” At the event, the rapper tried to explain the lengthy process it took to get clearance for his samples.

We had to talk to his estate, talk to different companies in France and another in the U.S that held the right to his Masters. I was this close to giving it all up but then I thought again, for what I want to achieve, I had to go ahead with it. That was one of the main reasons I wanted us to sample and it was a lot of “wahala” to clear the samples.

What does Nigerian law say?

To reiterate, there are two sets of rights to be protected in a song – a composition (lyrics, melody) and sound recording (the audio recording). Sound recording copyrights are owned by recording artists and their record labels while compositions are owned by the publishers and songwriters.

  1. Composition

Under the Nigerian Copyright Act (NCA), compositions are referred to as “musical works”. Copyright in a musical work subsists for 70 years. Compositions must be contained in a “definite medium of expression”. This extends to writing and MP3 recordings. Not ideas.

According to the Act, copyright, in the case of a musical work, includes the exclusive right to make any adaptation of the work. Adaptation includes “altering work within the same genre to make it suitable for different conditions of exploitation as well as altering the composition of the work”. Music sampling is seemingly an adaptation of a musical work. The right to do so is therefore exclusive to the composer/songwriter.

Finally, the Act provides that a musical work would not be ineligible for copyright because it infringes the copyright of some other work. This means that unlicensed sampling does not deny an artist of the copyright in their own song. If artist A samples artist B’s hit and artist A is further sampled by artist C, artist A can still sue artist B for infringement.

  • Sound recording

Copyright in a sound recording subsists for 50 years. Under the Act, copyright in a sound recording is the exclusive right to control the reproduction of the whole or substantial part of the recording either in its original form or in any form recognizably derived from the original. Music sampling typically entails reproduction of a substantial part of a prior recording. Control of this is exclusive to the artist (and his label). “Recognizably derived from the original” provides a useful test for permissible music sampling. If part of a song can be recognized as derived from another, then it is a “reproduction”.

  • Clearing

In Nigeria, you can sue for unlicensed music sampling. Under the NCA, the owner of a copyright can sue for infringement at the Federal High Court. However, the Act also allows the transmission of this copyright. That is, licensing. This means that an artist, record label, songwriter or publisher can transfer their copyright in a song to another person. This transfer must be in writing. Therefore, clearing is permissible in Nigeria.

But, is clearance the norm in Nigeria? Do Nigerian artists bother to clear music? Does anyone sue for copyright infringement?


What’s going on? Everywhere is just blindfolded.

The utility of these analyses is questionable in the Nigerian context because legal solutions are not sought to issues of unlicensed music sampling. Urban Central aptly noted that though music sampling is common in Nigeria, there has not been a single report of a successful sampling or related copyright suit in Nigeria. Indeed. On rare occasions, an angry (or friendly) social media post is where it starts and ends.

In May 2018, Tekno’s Jogodo sampled Pologo by popular duo, Mad Melon And Mountain Black (Danfo Drivers) and was immediately accused of copyright infringement. This matter was seemingly settled behind-the-scenes as the trio later posed for a friendly Instagram post. Later, in August, Ciara made her Afrobeat debut with Freak Me featuring Tekno. The track contained heavy sampling from Tiwa Savage’s Before Nko and was clearly done without the artist’s permission. Shortly after, Ciara took to Twitter to “thank” Tiwa Savage for “inspiration”.

These raise a lot of questions as to the awareness of Nigerian artistes. What do they know about copyright protection? Are these many samples successfully cleared? Is the court system dissuading a few from seeking legal remedy? Is it easier to call out defaulting artists on radio and social media? Is it that music sampling is acceptable in Nigeria’s music culture? Is it that enforcing intangible rights is perceived as needlessly restrictive?

Who knows. But now you know all about music sampling.


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