Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Flashback: Chemical Brothers "It Began In Afrika" (2001)

First played live in late 2000 "It Began In Afrika" is the Chemical Brothers single that almost never was. A few months after the song's debut, but long before the Chems had a version they found satisfactory, they sent the song out in acetate form to a few select producer and dj friends for feedback but as they continued to tinker the track developed a life of it's own. Appearances in high profile mix sessions from their superstar dj friends created buzz for the track and several publications predicted it would be the "anthem of the summer" as far back as May of '01. Despite the praise it appeared that The Brothers couldn't bear to part with the track before it was fully realized and in the age of Napster it may have cost them. With no single in sight versions of the song and clones that sampled the title phrase flooded p2p networks by mid-summer as it became more than just an anthem but a product of the collective imagination of dance fans across the globe.

Why then was there a long wait? I believe it comes down to two factors. First off it is one of the most straightforward club tracks that The Chemicals had released as a single at that point. The song maintains the classic four-on-the-floor throughout and while it works the template fantastically there is nothing definitively "Chemical Brothers" about the track. The other factor is Norman Cook. The title sample and most likely some of the percussion are taken from proto-rap spoken word and soul artist Jim Ingram's "Drumbeat" but Norman Cook used them first in his 1988 one-off project The Urban All Stars on a track called "It Began In Africa". They were working with material their friend and competitor had already cheekily committed to a "dj and producers only" sample disc (track 30 if you're interested) so I suspect they wanted to be sure that when it was released every ounce of floor filling potential was maximized.

An official video for "It Began In Afrika" was never created and it came out nearly six months before their next album leaving the impression that they never really finished the song but it had just reached the point where it had to be released. It charted at the number 8 position on the UK singles charts which is respectable for a track that had the opportunity to tire potential buyers who had download options available for months in advance.

Also of note is the US release date on which other events of a much more important scale overshadow anything else about the song. Reminded of the release date I do think it was my intention to pick it up that day before I woke up to the worst news my generation has witnessed.

Listen to it by way of this unofficial video (actually The Chemical Brothers song over the visuals from a Cassius video):

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