Burundi beat, or, obtaining copyright for a rhythm is a difficult proposition

Musique du Burundi (1968)

Burundi beat is best known as an appropriated drum style of British New Romantics bands Bow Wow Wow and Adam and the Ants.

The original source of this tribal rhythm is a recording of 25 drummers of the Ingoma tribe, made in 1967 in a village in Burundi by Michel Vuylsteke and Charles Duvelle, a team of French anthropologists. The recording was included on an album, Musique du Burundi, issued by the French Ocora label in 1968. (pictured above)

In 1971 Mike Steiphenson grafted an arrangement for guitars and keyboards onto the Ocora recording for Barclay Records, and the result was Burundi Black, a seven inch that sold more than 125,000 copies and made the British best-seller charts. In 1978, Barclay released a twelve inch version.

In 1981, the track was re-released on Barclay and Cachalot records. This time, Rusty Egan, drummer with the new romantic band Visage, and a French record producer named Jean-Philippe Iliesco recorded a new pop arrangement over the Burundian drummers.

Mike Steiphenson holds the Burundi Black copyright. Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and several other bands have made hits with the Burundi beat as a rhythmic foundation. The Burundian drummers who made the original recording are not sharing in the profits. In any case, as the Jamaican recording industry and the Amen break cases have shown, obtaining copyright for a rhythm is a difficult proposition.

1 thought on “Burundi beat, or, obtaining copyright for a rhythm is a difficult proposition

  1. s

    Before Bow Wow Wow and Adam & the Ants, the Buzzcocks already used it as well in Moving away from the pulse beat from their 1st album…

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