Arts, Culture & Media

How Middle East sounds drive Jason Derulo's 'Talk Dirty'

Balkan_Beat_Box_publicity_photo.jpg

Credit: Courtesy of Balkan Beat Box

Balkan Beat Box members include, from left, Tamir Muskat, Tomer Yosef and Ori Kaplan.

A Middle Eastern sounding instrumental riff is an integral part of the fabric of Jason Derulo's hit single "Talk Dirty.

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"Talk Dirty" is one of those songs that "has legs," says the song's LA producer Ricky Reed of the band Wallpaper. It's been getting non-stop airplay since its initial release in New Zealand in August 2013.

As of this moment, "Talk Dirty" has been on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for 20 consecutive weeks. The musical hook that distinguishes the single is a Middle Eastern-sounding sample, integrated into the chorus, taken from the 2007 song 'Hermetico' by the Brooklyn-based Israeli trio Balkan Beat Box.

Listen to the song and you'll hear that sax riff many times.

The group's alto sax player, Ori Kaplan, says his unusual tone and pitch are intentionally non-Western.

"I try to play the saxophone as if I'm playing a double-reed instrument like the zurna, kind of a Turkish oboe, because I like it to sound distorted and messed-up," he says. Kaplan, who wrote "Hermetico" with his bandmates Tamir Muskat and Tomer Yosef, says the sax line is typical of melodies used throughout the Middle East. "Particularly in Turkey, in tsifteteli music, you can hear these kinds of lines in this kind of hijaz scale."

Now Kaplan's "messed up" sax sound is being heard on Hit Radio stations across the US. Reed credits producer and music consultant Miles Beard with discovering "Hermetico" being played in the clubs of Tel Aviv. At Beard's insistance, Reed took a copy of "Hermetico" into his Los Angeles studio, dissassembled it and created a new instrumental track that would eventually be layered with pop vocals from Jason Derulo and an X-rated rap by 2 Chainz.

Reed says his own part of the production was quickly done. "I took 3 or 4 hours, not really adding a lot to it, just trying to bring out the best elements of "Hermetico" — of course the alto saxophone, but also the deep baritone sax, the infectious cowbell and the beat."

Fans of Balkan Beat Box caught on right away and began posting comments on the "Talk Dirty" YouTube video.

"A lot of people write 'Hey, you know, they stole from Balkan Beat Box.' The answer is no, they didn't steal from Balkan Beat Box, we allowed this sample to be sampled," Kaplan says.

In fact, the members of Balkan Beat Box are listed among the authors of 'Talk Dirty' and will eventually get a nice royalty check. Meanwhile, Balkan Beat Box does not play "Talk Dirty" in its own concerts.

"Sometimes we have fun with it, though," Kaplan admits. "When we start 'Hermetico' we wink at 'Talk Dirty.' It's just a funny few seconds, and every time we change it, so we don't know what the joke will be."

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