Brazilian songwriter accuses singer Adele of plagiarizing one of his compositions for the hit ”Million Years Ago”

English singer Adele accused of plagiarizing a song by Brazilian artist Martinho Da Vila
English singer Adele accused of plagiarizing a song by Brazilian artist Martinho Da Vila

Note from BBT: As I’ve been music fan for decades and have been exposed to the ugly side of the music business, I’ve long been familiar with the issue of plagiarism. Whether we talk about the theft of Blues songs in the rise of Rock music or the question of sampling in Hip Hop, the question of songs being simply ‘influenced’ by other songs, being outright copied and stolen or new songs not clearing samples that use old songs, the history is intriguing.

For years, I had always heard that the basis of Rock music recorded by mostly white musicians was old Blues songs written by black musicians, but it was literally shocking to know just how deep this issue went. Of course, fans of rock music will know classic songs recorded by the likes of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, but lesser known are battles over songwriting copyrights, lawsuits and settlements.

A few examples of plagiarism in music can be in found the Beatles classic ‘’Come Together’’ which was clearly influenced by the Chuck Berry song “You Can’t Catch Me”. The similarities led to a lawsuit and an eventual settlement. Similarly, the Led Zeppelin song ‘’Whole Lotta Love’’ lifted significant parts from the composition ‘’You Need Love’’ written by Blues songwriter Willie Dixon and recorded by Blues great Muddy Waters. That case also led to a lawsuit and a settlement.

There are simply too many examples of songwriters who believe their songs are too similar to songs by other composers to have been simply coincidence or the possibility that both songwriters simply came up with similar chords and melodies for their compositions. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that in popular music, with so many so many songs being based on similar chord progressions and scales, there are just so many ideas songwriters can come up with before their ideas inevitably sound slightly similar to another song.

Then there’s the question of what constitutes a similar idea that numerous songwriters have considered based on popular song structures that have been used perhaps hundreds of times and what separates this from blatant imitation of a particular song. Listening to blues and sambas over the years, I can say that there comes a time when they all of them sound alike because of similar chord progressions that have been used again and again.

Think about any of your favorite songwriters and, if you do the research, you’ll find that they’ve been accused of copying someone else’s song at one time or another in their careers. And even if they weren’t actually taken to court over their songs, there have been fans or other artists who have listened, compared and concluded that one or several of their songs were clearly influenced by other songs. This can be true of new songwriters, one hit wonders or famous, respected composers.

It’s funny but, there have many been times over the years when I thought that one song sounded like another but then just dismissed as I thought to myself, ‘’that’s not possible’’. Years ago, before the advent of the internet, I often never gave these ideas a second thought, but with information being as simple as typing and clicking these days, more times than not, I’ll look online and see if anyone else had heard the same similarities that I heard.

In the past six months, this has happened more than a few times. For example, I’ve known numerous versions of the George Gershwin classic ‘’Summertime’’and I’ve also heard various versions of the old negro spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”. One day it occurred to me that there are melodic similarities in the two songs. I looked it up and sure enough I discovered that ‘’Motherless Child’’ was featured in the original stage play of ‘’Porgy and Bess’’ before Gershwin replaced the song with his own composition, ‘’Summertime’’, in the opera version of the play. Coincidence? I think not.

This was also the case when I recently heard a song by Nat King Cole entitled ‘’Answer Me My Love’’ which has sections that sound eerily similar to the Beatles classic ‘’Yesterday’’. Of course, Paul McCartney, or should I say, Faul McCartney, the Beatle credited with writing the song, denies any similarities with the Cole song, which was written by Gerhard Winkler, Fred Rauch, and Carl Sigman, but the possibility of him lying is absolutely out the question….right?

In his defense, the artist who would be Paul McCartney claims the ballad came to him in a dream in 1965. As one of Hip Hop’s greatest rappers once said, ‘’it was all a dream’’, but music experts also believe the artist currently known as Paul McCartney was influenced by the 1953 Cole hit. When you consider songwriting royalties earned by ‘’Yesterday’’, which has been covered at least 2,000 times and been played on the radio over six million times, you can understand why the former Beatle would deny the accusations.

Listening to the songs side by side, I wouldn’t even claim that the song was a complete rip off. I just believe that there are similarities in parts of the two songs that can’t be denied. Then again, if you’ve ever looked into the story of McCartney, you know he has far more than the inspiration of ‘’Yesterday’’ to hide. The case of ‘’Yesterday’’ and ‘’Answer Me My Love’’ calls into the question of what in fact defines inspiration, similarity and plagiarism. The question could be applied to perhaps thousands of songs.

This is also the case in Brazilian music where artists and songwriters such as Roberto Carlos, Papi e Alf Soares, Seu Jorge, Luiz Melodia, Paulo Sérgio and Raul Seixas have all been accused or made accusations of musical plagiarism. In some cases, Brazilian artists have even accused artists from other countries whose songs went on to become international hits. Which leads us to today’s story.

Like several other Brazilian artists, I was introduced to the music of long-time samba master Martinho Da Vila through the 1999 Putumayo CD Brasileiro. Martinho’s contribution to that disc, the slinky, mid-tempo, slightly funky track ‘’Visgo De Jaca’’ was originally released on the artist’s 1974 LP Canta Canta, Minha Gente, which would lead me to later familiarize myself with much of Da Vila’s catalog, which dates back to the late 1960s.

In the case you’ll read about below, one might wonder, how is that someone in Europe discovered a song by a Brazilian artist? Well, quite simply, I am not the only non-Brazilian fan of Brazilian music. As it turns out, the Brazilian connection to the song in question comes by way of an American songwriter who is clearly familiar with Brazilian music. Proof of this is the fact that the composer, Greg Kurstin, has tweeted videos of songs by Brazilian artists such as Paulinho da Viola, Maria Bethânia, Gal Costa as well as a photo of legendary percussionist Naná Vasconcelos.

When you listen to the two songs at the center of the case, the similarities will become very obvious. Based on what I heard, one Brazilian songwriter could be in line to receive a nice payday because one of England’s most popular singers and the above-mentioned composer were so inspired by one of his songs that the artist decided to record her own version of it but conveniently left his name off of the songwriting credits.

English singer Adele accused of plagiarizing a song by Brazilian artist Martinho Da Vila

‘It’s my legacy,’ says composer who accuses Adele of plagiarizing song recorded by Martinho da Vila

According to the accusation, an expertise found that the song ”Million Years Ago”, released in 2015 by the pop star, copied almost 88% of the melody of the song ”Mulheres”

By Felipe Souza

One particular subject dominated social networks earlier this week. The British singer Adele is suspected to have plagiarized a song by a Brazilian composer.

According to the accusation, an expertise found that the song ”Million Years Ago”, released in 2015 by the pop star, copied almost 88% of the melody of ”Mulheres”, which became known in the voice of one of the biggest names in Brazilian samba, Martinho da Vila.

In an interview, the composer of the song ”Mulheres”, Toninho Geraes, said that he has already sent two extrajudicial notifications to the singer, the record label XL Recordings, responsible for releasing the song, and the producer and composer of ”Million Years Ago”, Greg Kurstin.

American producer Greg Kurstin accused of plagiarism along with singer Adele

None of them were answered, and now the Brazilian songwriter said he will take the case to court.

He said he has been following the reactions of fans on social networks through links sent by friends and believes he will succeed in the lawsuit, just as Rod Stewart made a deal with Jorge Ben in the 1970s.

“People have been very supportive of my cry for protection. The only thing I have in my life that I can say is mine is my music. I only sell it if I want to. My patrimony, what I conquered, I might lose, but my repertoire, my songs, this is my legacy”, he said.

Songwriter Toninho Geraes with singer Martinho Da Vila

The pressure of Brazilians on social networks seeking an answer from the British singer has been so strong that Adele blocked the comments of the song ”Million Years Ago” on YouTube.

According to Toninho, what he wants is financial compensation on the profits made by the artist with the song, such as royalties from views on YouTube and Spotify.

“There has been no goodwill on their part. I think that if there is justice, I will be compensated for what this song has already generated in dividends. Our desire is for public redress, but my intention was never to expose Adele,” he said.

The reporter contacted the record companies responsible for the production and distribution of the singer’s music, XL, Sony Music and Universal Music, as well as Adele’s personal press office and music producer Greg Kurstin. Only Sony has responded as of this writing, stating that it will not comment on the case.

At a ceremony, Adele holds a microphone in one hand and a trophy in the other Getty Images The singer Adele, the record company XL and the composer Greg Kurstin have already been notified out of court about the plagiarism accusation.

Toninho said he learned about the similarity between the songs ”Mulheres” and ”Million Years Ago” from his friend Misael da Hora.

“He contacted me and said that he was at a party and thought: ‘This is Adele singing a song by Toninho Geraes. He was happy and said he went searching to see if my name was on her song, and he realized that it wasn’t,” Toninho told the report.

After hearing the British singer’s version, he went to a lawyer specializing in copyright to find out if he was right.

Toninho is the author of other hits in Brazilian music, such as ”Me Leva”, by Agepê, and ”Verdade”, by Zeca Pagodinho. Toninho says he doesn’t know how Adele could have had access to the song ”Mulheres”, but he is surprised that the producer and composer of ”Million Years Ago” knows so much about Brazilian music. On his Spotify profile, Greg Kurstin says he even learned to play the berimbau, the one string instrument associated with capoeira.

“What’s strange to us is the fact that her partner is a researcher of Brazilian music, of Paulinho da Viola, who is a samba musician just like me,” said Toninho.

For Toninho, the lack of answers from the singer shows disdain to Brazilians and disrespect to the country’s culture.

“(This happens) when we have a crazy president, who is setting fire to the forest and who underestimates the pandemic. We need to earn our respect because people doubt our capacity of discernment, our ability to fight for our rights, and it’s not just Adele. We need to be guardians of our cultural riches,” he said.

Musical plastic

Geraes drinking coffee in front of the table Personal file Geraes hired team of experts to analyze similarity between ‘Mulheres’ and ‘Million Years’. A team of three experts was hired by composer Toninho Geraes to try to retrace the path that could have led to possible plagiarism.

 The lawyer Fredímio Biasotto Trotta said that the experts in music forensics unraveled the song recorded by Adele to try to understand the paths taken by the alleged plagiarists. According to him, the experts identified alterations made to “make up” the original melody.

“An expert report that shows technically how this plagiarism was done, the compositional techniques that were used to arrive at it. This gives an even more serious character to our suspicion that there was intentional plagiarism. The expert will show that there was plastic surgery. What was removed and what was injected, making an analogy with surgeries”, he said.

The lawyer said that, for him, even the possible thesis of an involuntary plagiarism is “difficult to accept” after unanswered notifications.

“We were surprised by Adele’s silence. Sony said it only distributed the album in Brazil, but did not refute the plagiarism. As ugly as plagiarism is this silence. We made a notification with more than a hundred sheets of each notification,” said Trotta.

One of British singer Rod Stewart’s songs was influenced by a song by Brazilian artist Jorge Ben

Rod Stewart and Jorge Ben

At the end of the 1970s, famed Scottish singer Rod Stewart released the song ”Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

The Brazilian singer’s production identified that the choruses of the Scotsman’s song and ”Taj Mahal”, by Jorge Ben, were almost identical, and filed a lawsuit against Stewart. They reached a peaceful settlement and Stewart donated all the profits from the song to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

The Scottish singer discussed the case in his autobiography and admitted he had committed unconscious plagiarism, because he had listened to the ”Taj Mahal” song a lot during a carnival trip to Brazil with his friends Elton John and Freddie Mercury.

Source: Correio Braziliense

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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