As Jamaican music icon Toots Hibbert moves to secure unpaid royalties for Bam Bam, a plethora of famous solo artists and groups have been found on record to have sampled or covered in full, the song, which has the distinction of being Jamaica’s first National Festival Song winner back in 1966.
Bam Bam, was written by Toots and performed by himself and members of his band known only as the Maytals at the time, as their entry in the Government of Jamaica’s National Festival Song Competition.
According to the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), the competition, which has since become the longest-running original song contest in the island, was aimed at, from its inception, providing a platform for ‘aspiring artistes, songwriters, and producers to showcase their talents’, as well as ‘identify a new and original song that is reflective of the spirit of the Jamaican people’.
The theme of Bam Bam is about a righteous man, who, if provoked, will not hesitate to defend himself.
After cementing themselves in the annals of Jamaican history with Bam Bam, The Maytals went on to cop festival glory again in 1969 with Sweet and Dandy and a third victory as Toots and the Maytals in 1972, with the popular cautionary song Pomps and Pride.
Bam Bam subsequently became an integral part of Jamaica’s Independence celebrations over the decades and the term, embedded in the Jamaican Patois lexicon.
A few weeks ago, Toots told The Jamaica Observer newspaper that he had instructed a team of intellectual property rights managers to launch a thorough forensic audit to find out which entities and individuals have been collecting publishing and royalties and which musicians have covered Bam Bam without giving him requisite credit.
According to the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), all samplers of music must seek consent from the original copyright owners or their agents such as their record company or music publishing company, before covering work.
However, Toots said even though he was the writer, arranger, composer, singer, and the producer of the original song and is listed as the principal songwriter in the US Copyright Office in Washington DC, he has never collected royalties for the song.
Sister Nancy was the first person to do a cover of Toots’ Bam Bam. Her version was done on a rub-a-dub rhythm in 1982 in which she adapted the chorus and altered it to say “this woman never trouble no one; I am a lady not a man” from Toots’ initial “This man I don’t trouble no one; but if you should trouble this man”.
Sister Nancy also used the entire hook and the altered verses from Toot’s original song, ten times throughout her thirteen stanza version, with only three verses being her own original content.
Toots met Nancy at a festival in Europe years ago and told the Observer that “she came to me and told me she never know that it was my song, and the song was done before she was born.”
He added, “At the time, I respected her as an artiste trying to help herself, and this song provided a lot of help for her career. So there’s no ill will, just the business.”
In one interview with OkayPlayer, Sister Nancy was quoted as saying that she has been collecting royalties from Reebok which used the song (with Toots hook) in an advertisement in 2014, after she sued the company, and also that she has also collected royalties for Jay-Z’s use of the song.
Jay-Z sampled the song in Bam from the 2017 album 4:44 and even flew to the island to film the music video in which Sister Nancy is also featured.
However, nowhere in the interviews has she given credit to the Maytals or acknowledged that Bam Bam was a Government of Jamaica-commissioned National Festival song.
In an interview with NME, she notes that: “There was an older song called Bam Bam, so I decided to do a Bam Bam too. I freestyled it. I only wrote it down after.”
The other known artistes who have sampled Bam Bam include Chakademus and Pliers, who covered the song in its entirety in 1992 for their All She Wrote album and Nigerian singer Tiwa Savage who sampled the hook in her Girlie O remix with her compatriot Patoranking. In the 2014 song, she sampled Bam Bam’s theme and rhyme schemes singing: “Cos this love, It no go trouble no one, I know the feeling is strong, But you is a bandit, Never love another like this.”
Lauryn Hill also used the same rhyme schemes of Bam Bam in her song, Lost Ones, in 1998, from her album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Bam Bam was also sampled by Heavy D & The Boyz, in his Talk Is Cheap song, which was released in 1992, as well as in Young Casanovas by Junior M.A.F.I.A, featuring Cam’ ron and Mase in 1997.
Kanye West sampled Bam Bam on the 2016 song Famous featuring Rihanna, while Beyoncé did the same in her live performances of her song Hold Up, the second track from her 2016 album Lemonade.
Toots’ pursuit of royalties comes in the wake of the landmark copyright infringement lawsuit case, which was won by Jamaican songwriter and deejay, Flourgon against American singer Miley Cyrus in early January.
That case was hailed as a massive win for Jamaican artistes and lyricists, when, after almost two years, Cyrus decided to settle.
Flourgon had, in March 2018, filed a US$300 million copyright infringement lawsuit against Cyrus for plagiarizing the line “we run things, things no run we” from his 1998 single We Run Tings and embedding it in her own 2013 song We Can’t Stop.
Flourgon’s lawyers had argued, among other things, that his lines were embedded in the chorus, which is the most important part of We Can’t Stop. They also said Cyrus followed the theme of his song, “which is about being in self-control, not caring what anyone thinks and being determined, and that the song is one of three she performed consistently, “even while promoting other projects”.
Toots & The Maytals latest album, Got To Be Tough, was released two days ago and is their first project in more than a decade. Listen to the title track below and stream the full album on Apple Music and Spotify.