Brian Eno's Rhythmic Genius—by way of Fela Kuti— Produces Talking Heads' Most Enigmatic Song
|By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)|
When I first heard the Talking Heads classic "Once In A Lifetime," I immediately knew that it would have a profound effect on me musically (and culturally). Although I'd had some minimal familiarity with African multiple rhythm styles, I hadn't yet gotten into Fela Kuti, the towering Nigerian figure and creator of afrobeat. So hearing "Once In A Lifetime" was like being smacked with five walls of rhythm, all at once. In fact, it wasn't until I went back and really studied "Once In A Lifetime," did I began to figure out how to incorporate the concept (and sensibility) of multiple rhythm structures into my style and sound of beatmaking.
Just the use of the tom tom drum alone was a musical shock to my system. But on "Once In A Lifetime," it doesn't stop there. There's the clapping, hiccuping and skipping snare drum. There's the cowbell and triangle, both moving independently in their own space, seemingly away from the base drum structure. There's the simple up/down 3-note, rippling bass line. There's the shuffling, not quite wah wah rhythm guitar. And then finally of course, there's Brian Eno's waterworld ambiance touch, streaming throughout the song like a music sync for flashback scenes in a science fiction movie.
Finally, I should add that as far as "gateway music" goes, "Once In A Lifetime" (as well as other Talking Heads songs) opened up a plethora of musical directions for me to explore. And the fact that Talking Heads leader David Byrne was one of the early supporters of hip hop/rap music truly confirms for me how similar musical influences most often rotate in the same circles.
The music and video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
Talking Heads - "Once In A Lifetime"