A Hungarian singer from the Roma community is suing Beyonce over the smash hit “Drunk in Love,” saying the superstar sampled a folk tune without permission.
The song off Beyonce’s Grammy-nominated self-titled album begins with an Eastern-sounding a cappella voice that gradually fades out after around 40 seconds as a pop beat, keyboards and Beyonce’s voice come in.
In a lawsuit filed in a New York court, Monika Juhasz Miczura — who performs under the name Mitsou — said that the snippet was a digitally altered version of her 1995 recording of “Bajba, Bajba Pelem,” a song that she learned from her grandmother.
The suit said that the song was traditional to the Roma, also known as Gypsies, and was “about hopelessness, when one can no longer trust anyone but her own mother and God.” By contrast, “Drunk In Love” features Beyonce and her rapper husband Jay-Z as they sing of their marital bliss.
The lawsuit said that Beyonce and Jay-Z did not seek permission and exploited the Roma song “to evoke foreign eroticism alongside the sexually intense lyrics.”
Mitsou, who said she learned of her song’s alleged use on the year-old album when friends contacted her, charged in the lawsuit that the “blatant unauthorized use” of her voice is “causing irreparable harm and emotional distress.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction on further “exploitation” of Mitsou’s voice as well as compensation. While the lawsuit did not set an amount, Mitsou estimated that her voice was present on 29 percent of the song by the couple, who are multimillionaires.
Mitsou has developed a niche following among fans of Roma music, including as a member of the band Ando Drom. The lawsuit said her voice was “widely considered unique and ethereal.”
Mitsou has collaborated on the films of Tony Gatlif, a French director of Roma heritage, including on “Gadjo Dilo” which in 1999 won France’s Cesar national film award for music.
Beyonce and Jay-Z did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.
Beyonce suddenly released the album and accompanying videos in December 2013 on iTunes with no previous publicity.
“Beyonce” has since sold some five million copies worldwide and is nominated for the Grammy Album of the Year.