For The Record: Incredible Bongo Band: Last Bongo in Belgium

Ladies and Gentlemen, the time has come for me to present the first-ever For The Record entry on Sound Arkivee. I always thought it would be about a – probably – Motown-released record from my own collection but when I found out about this song, I simply had to change my mind. The song is: ‘Last Bongo in Belgium’ by Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band. And believe me when I say it’s worth to be writing about a single song for what lies within this tune is the amen break of today’s downtempo and hip-hop music. (We are going to deal with the amen break, be patient.)

The Incredible Bongo Band was founded by Michael Viner, an executive at the MGM label. Viner was president of MGM’s sublabel called Pride and he was doing fine enough to start a project, in which he gathered session musicians and made unused studio time – looking back – incredibly beneficial.
The Bongo Band played funk music with a solid rhythm section, an emphasised brass section (most notably the saxophone) and some guitar solos were also present. So far, and listening to the tunes, we could say that it was not something too special. Of course, if we were at a festival tipsy or half-drunk at 6pm, we would definitely stay and watch them but it wouldn’t make us crazy.
The group released two albums (the milestone ‘Bongo Rock’ in 1973 on which ‘…Belgium’ was released and ‘Return of the Incredible Bongo Band the year after) but did not enjoy a long and happy life. In 1974 the group disbanded.

Michael Viner

It turns out that the most crucial and unforgettable element, which gives the band’s immortal legacy, is what we would thing the smallest: the bongos. And Viner. Because the middle parts of these already percussion-heavy songs contained some monumental percussion solos which had more groove and flesh in them than the remaining parts of either instrument.
These solos were later recovered by hip-hop pioneers in the ’80s and thus – as Will Hermes wrote in The New York Times – the national anthem of hip-hop was born by sampling ‘Apache’, another song off ‘Bongo Rock’.

However, at the end of the ’80’s another song went on to be a sampling superstar. Let’s listen to ‘Last Bongo in Belgium’ first.

One of the most influential percussion solos in popular history kicks in at 4.27 and the following bars are truly history.

Some examples for the sampling of this piece:
Beastie Boys – ‘Looking Down The Barrell of The Gun’ (off Paul’s Boutique, 1989)

Leftfield – ‘Song of Life’ (off Leftism, 1994)

Recoil – ‘Last Breath’ (off Unsound Methods, 1997) (Click on the link. It’s safe and it takes you to Grooveshark.)

And so on. Enjoy this groove, it’s one of the best.


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