Solomun Reignites Debate Over Sampling and Cultural Appropriation

DJ and music producer Solomun has sparked debate around cultural appropriation, property and sampling after playing a track containing a sample of the Islamic Call to Prayer at Italy’s Kappa Futur Festival.

Photo credit: DJmag

Arguably the biggest DJ in the world right now, German-Bosnian producer Solomun caused controversy over the weekend after sampling an Islamic Call to Prayer at Fappa Futur Festival on Saturday.

The artist has since issued an apology via his social media pages; according to the post, Solomun received a demo shortly before his set at Kappa Futur that contained the Islamic Call to Prayer. Without recognizing the sample, the DJ played the track but soon sensed that “something was off” before mixing it out. It was later made known to him that the track contained a vocal sample of the Call to Prayer.

 

This isn’t the first time a DJ has found himself under fire for appropriating Islamic scripture. In an amusingly tone-deaf gaffe, British-born techno artist Dax J was handed a one-year jail sentence (which he didn’t serve) for playing a remix of the Call to Prayer in a Tunisian club last year. And earlier this year, Beirut nightclub Gärten was forced to close its doors by the government after Acid Pauli played a track that sampled verses from the Quran. The club re-opened several days later, but not before the incident made headlines.

It’s sad, and seemingly antiquated to many of us in Western society, that religious censorship should trump freedom of speech and artistic expression. But it is also an embarrassing state of affairs that both Solomun and Dax J were oblivious to the content of their music. That Dax J played a Muslim prayer-remix in Tunisia, a Muslim country, ignorant to the implications of this, is even more uncomfortable. It’s telling of the West’s tendency to borrow from other cultures without really having a clue about what they are borrowing.

Artistic expression should be valued, but artists need to make informed decisions before putting something out there. Solomun’s blunder isn’t so much that he played a sample of a Call to Prayer, but that he had no idea he was playing it.

Had the DJ been aware of what he was playing, and therefore the meaning of the prayer and its original context, there would be little need for an apology. Dax J, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t have played the prayer-remix in an Islamic-lead country, had he done his research. That’s not to say people of religious ilk would not have been angered by Solomun’s track, but at least he could have stood by an informed and considered decision. Controversy comes with the territory of working in an industry that (rightfully) pushes boundaries and spans cultures, but there is little excuse for not doing your research.

Solomun’s set at Kappa Futur sparked a storm of debate on social media. Many suggested Solomun had no reason to apologise, with others going as far to say “F*** them.” Others took offence to the track:

Western DJs borrowing from other cultures is nothing new, especially in the House genre where every second track seems to have some sort of Eastern or Arab chant in it. But how many of these DJs are aware what those chants mean?

It’s a somewhat baffling paradox that the electronic music scene, well-known for its liberalism, pays little attention to the context of the many samples it borrows from Eastern and African culture. After all, it was the blossoming rave culture of the late eighties/early nineties that gave rise to P.L.U.R – “peace, love, unity and respect,” a doctrine that underlies much of the electronic music scene today.

Borrowing from other cultures makes art interesting, leads to new and exciting sound and, at best, can break down stigmas, but only when done thoughtfully. Artists have a duty to research what they’re putting out there; sampling is not exempt from cultural appropriation.