Apache has quite the story to tell.
This is one of the most influential songs in hip-hop, mostly from the early-70s version by the Incredible Bongo Band, an ad hoc collection of MGM studio musicians led by Michael Viner. From the New York Times in 2006:
“Bongo Rock” is significant, however, for being one of the musical cornerstones of rap. While it’s hard to measure these things accurately, it is certainly one of the most sampled LP’s in history, if not the most sampled. Most every history-minded hip-hop D.J. has a copy, and the first few bars of its signature number, a driving cover version of the 60’s instrumental number “Apache,” can send crowds into overdrive.
The Bongo Band’s “Apache” has been recycled continually in rap songs over the years; just this past August, Missy Elliott won an MTV video award for the clip to her song “We Run This,” whose central motif is lifted wholesale from “Apache.” According to Kool Herc, the stylistic pioneer many people consider to be the father of hip-hop music, the Bongo’s “Apache” is “the national anthem of hip-hop.”
In fact, the song was originally recorded by “The Shadows” in 1960. Many variations and samples were to follow, from The Sugarhill Gang to Sir Mix-a-Lot to Nas to Vanilla Ice. Alfonso Ribeiro added a famous interpretation. (And given the recent passing of Adam Yauch, we’d be remiss not to mention the Beastie Boys’ sample for their live version of Root Down. It really is a fantastic song and video.)
But I’m focused on the 1977 version by Denmark’s disco master, Tommy Seebach. Specifically, the poor Apache girls in this now-infamous and oft-memed video that stands above all others.
1) When I think of the Apache, it’s usually in the context of deserts stretching beyond the horizon, orange and brown landscapes, and the American southwest. Seebach would have us believe that the Apache populated the Eastern Woodlands or the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Valley, surrounded by greenery and deciduous trees. High school geography teachers across North America will never play this video in their classes.
2) As for the women, they seem quite happy to be there. They practice their air-archery skills and frolic in skimpy animal skins. I did some research to determine if this was common practice for Apache women. Here is one take:
The Apache woman worked unendingly to answer the call to provide food for her family, but she also helped build shelters (brush and hide structures called “wickiups,”) gathered firewood, processed and tanned hides, cut and sewed leather clothing and bags, carved gourd water containers and utensils, wove basketry and crafted pottery and caulk-lined wicker water jugs. Somehow she also found time to have modest cosmetic designs tattooed on her cheeks and forehead. She made necklaces and pendants of trade beads and mirrors. She took elaborate care of her hair, shampooing it with the lather from soap tree yucca roots, parting it down the middle, allowing it to fall freely across her shoulders and down her back. Meanwhile, she taught her daughters the disciplines and arts of the life of an Apache woman.
Apache women often accompanied parties of warriors on raids, responded to the call to arms, counseled with the men in battle strategy, met with enemies in peace negotiations and served as shamans in spiritual quests. They acted with stunning courage and ferocity.
So it seems there is some practical value in their aerobics routine.
3) Were Tommy Seebach to head out alone on the frontier in fitted buckskins, seeking to channel his inner Dances with Wolves, it would not end this well.
Note: Tommy Seebach enjoys lip-synched maniacal laughter.
Oh, what the hell, we’ve got some space to make up for from the past couple of weeks…
JUMP ON IT
Soon after Seebach took Danish disco to strange new places, the Sugarhill Gang provided their own interpretation of Apache life, complete with hot buttered popcorn:
Diagnosis: Some things were easier done in the 1980s. Smoking indoors and incorporating war cries and hatchets into hip hop, to name two.