The most sampled breakbeat in hip-hop was recorded here in Vancouver, and the whole unlikely story is captured in Dan Forrer’s lively documentary Sample This. Performed by some of the greatest session musicians of the era, “Apache”—with its instantly recognizable drum and conga bridge—was tracked at Mushroom Studios on West 6th Avenue (called Can-Base at the time) for a project that came to be known as the Incredible Bongo Band.
A “jazz guy” in his early 50s, filmmaker (and Vancouverite) Forrer told the Straight that his interest in “Apache” stretches back to the ’70s, when he first picked up the Incredible Bongo Band single “Bongo Rock 73”.
“The comedy of this is whenever I go to a screening and I do a Q&A, I come out onto the stage and the audience is looking and I can read their minds,” Forrer said. “ ‘Who’s this grey-haired white guy? What’s he doing here? Where’s the director?’ Everybody figured the film was made by a 36-year-old black guy.” Although it includes some great interviews with Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, and Questlove, among many others, Forrer added that Sample This isn’t “really a hip-hop film”. “Hip-hop is sort of the punchline, but really it’s a pop culture story from the late ’60s to the late ’70s. That’s really where the film exists, and that’s where it fits.”
Indeed, the story of the Incredible Bongo Band turns up a remarkable cast of characters, including mob boss Johnny Roselli, Rosey Grier, Charles Manson, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, and ill-fated drummer Jim Gordon. It even touches—by virtue of the somewhat sketchy producer Michael Viner—on the Robert F. Kennedy assassination and the O.J. Simpson trial. Incredible is right, in other words.
Forrer presents the film on Monday (November 18) at the Vancity Theatre.