In 1969 a funk bank called The Winstons released “Amen Brother”, an instrumental version of an old gospel song. Midway through the track there is a drum solo, or “break”, that lasts roughly six seconds. It’s not a particularly special solo, nor is it technically challenging, yet this six seconds of drumming went on to drive the early Hip Hop sound, helped to sporn the Rave culture of the late 80’s, and create the Drum ‘n’ Bass sound of the 90’s. It is known as the “Amen Break” and has become one of the biggest influences on today’s music culture. Yet no royalties have ever been paid. So does anyone actually own the drum solo? Or has it now become part of a public natural resource? The modern law states that the use of any sample without permission, no matter how unrecognizable, is in breach of copyright. Is this right? Surely our urge to manipulate current trends is what gives us our culture in the first place? Whether it be music, art, fashion, technology, whatever – hasn’t “sampling” now become just another product of our society?
The artist Nate Harrison has created a piece of installation art called “Can I Get An Amen?” based around the story of the Amen Break. As well as giving us a history of this extraordinary drum solo, he also explores the notion that “information wants to be free”. You can see it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SaFTm2bcac or check out more of Nate Harrison’s videos at www.nkhstudio.com