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The evolution of Praising You, Rita Ora's new version of Fatboy Slim's Praise You

Rita Ora and Norman 'Fatboy Slim' Cook explain the evolution of Praise You, from civil rights hymn to their new version, Praising You

Rita Ora in the video for Praising You, an update of Praise You

Rita Ora in the video for Praising You. Photo: David Avalos / IG: @theedavidd

Great songs live forever. It’s true of Fatboy Slim’s 1999 smash Praise You, an instant classic that still sounds fresh nearly a quarter century along, and it’s true of Take Yo’ Praise, Camille Yarborough’s 1975 funk-soul civil rights hymn, from which Norman ‘Fatboy Slim’ Cook took the a capella introduction that forms the heart of his pop classic. That gorgeous, treacle-sticky melody is still there on Praising You, a new collaboration between Fatboy Slim and Rita Ora, though it’s now Ora’s voice that’s carrying the tune.

“When I’d made my version, I went to Camille to clear it,” Cook said in conversation with Ora for an exclusive Big Issue feature. “Sometimes when you’re talking to a different artist from a different generation, they go, ‘What’s this all about?’ She just went, ’Oh, that’s wonderful’.”

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She did indeed. Yarborough, who was working as a professor in the Black Studies Department at City College of New York when the song was a hit, was delighted that her voice had found a whole new audience. Though she still occasionally performed music and poetry, she had long fallen out of the full-time entertainer game, settling down to a life as a teacher and author (her award-winning children’s book, Cornrows was published in 1979). Praise You renewed interest in her work, leading to a new album, Ancestor House, in 2003.

Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) and Rita Ora have worked together on a new version of Praise You
Norman and Rita together at Glastonbury 2022. Image: supplied

Take Yo’ Praise is the centrepiece of Yarborough’s debut record, The Iron Pot Cooker, a blend of fiery spoken word and sultry, simmering soul, funk and gospel, based on her one-woman show Tales and Tunes of an African American Griot. Though it flew under the radar at the time (“people didn’t want music with a political message anymore, they just wanted to dance… boogie, boogie, disco” she told The Herald in 1999) it has since been recognised as an important work, the centre of a Venn diagram between Gil-Scott Heron, ’70s Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone and Mavis Staples. It’s well worth seeking out, and easy to find on your streaming platform of choice.

As for Take Yo’ Praise itself, Yarborough says it was written “for all the people who had come through the Black civil rights movement, who had stood up for truth and righteousness and justice, because human beings need to praise and respect one another more than they do”. It’s also a notably steamy love song, written for her boyfriend at the time, a mood Rita Ora’s version leans into. The track might have remained overlooked, had reissue label Ace not commissioned Cook to remix another song appearing on the same compilation. The rest is history.

To Cook the spirit of Yarborough’s original remains. “I’ve seen interviews,” Cook told The Big Issue, “and she says the most beautiful thing: ‘This is a song I wrote about the Black boys coming home from Vietnam, and it was a civil rights song, but then a generation later, this guy from England comes along, takes the lyrics, puts them in a different context, and it means different things to different people. But he’s carried on the spirit of the song.’ Those words can be a love song, it can be a celebration of a relationship.

“At Brighton, my local football team, they play it at the end of every game. It’s bittersweet depending on whether we won or lost, but we have come a long, long way together in the hard times AND the good. Now you’ve taken it on to another generation,” he says to Ora. “This is the third incarnation now, a third different audience, and a third slightly different meaning.”

He’s hoping that original spirit will persist. “If one person reads this and goes ‘Oh, so Praise You was originally a song about the civil rights struggle?’,” he said, “and they go, ‘what civil rights struggle?’ They might look that up or think, ‘I want to get into that.’”

“I hope people understand the evolution of this record,” Ora agreed, adding that Praising You, her version of the record is about celebrating the song’s history, as well as “praising your loved ones”.

The video for Rita Ora’s Praising You is directed by her husband, filmmaker Taika Waititi.

“It’s mad, it’s like a family tree,” she added. “First I wanted to show I was paying respects to the actual record, and then the way I wrote it was it being a love song and being madly in love with someone and having fun with that person. When you love a person, you do praise them. You feel like they can do no wrong. So that’s what my version of the record is about and dancing in your feelings, because it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Praising You by Rita Ora & Fatboy Slim is out on April 19. Read the full conversation between Ora and Cook in this week’s Big Issue magazine, available from your local vendor until April 23.

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