Tag Archives: France

Tasty introduction to the French reggae scene

The French reggae scene has been active since the 70’s when the first sound systems emerged, and domestically it has flourished with artists and groups such as Pierpoljak, Raggasonic, Tonton David and Daddy Mory, who was initially one third of Raggasonic.

Most French reggae artists sing in French, partly due to governmental regulations introduced in the mid 90’s. The regulations obliged radio and TV to play 70 percent French speaking music.

And this has stuck. On the compilation French Reggae Revolution only three of 15 songs are sung in English. I don’t understand much of the lyrics, but that doesn’t matter when the riddims and melodies are strong.

I’ve been following the French scene for some time and I only recognize two names – Mo’Kalamity and Dub Incorporation – on this set. Obviously the French scene has lots to offer.

The majority of the tunes are in a one drop mode with live instrumentation. Exceptions being The Rockin’ Preachers political No Nuclear Power and the excellent hip-hop tinged Au Marché Du Soleil from Massilia Sound System. Papa Style & Baldas 80’s sounding La Révolte also stands out from the formula.

And this set would actually have gained from being more diverse. A few dancehall acts would have been a nice touch. Maybe Admiral T and Tiwony would have been a great contribution.

French Reggae Revolution is not as revolutionary as the title indicates, but a tasty introduction the French one drop reggae scene.

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Break down the barriers and explore Pierpoljak

Award-winning French singer Pierpoljak was in August treated with a 16 track best of compilation spanning over his more than 15 years in the music business, which includes more than ten albums.

The Best of Pierpoljak includes songs from six of his sets – Pierpoljak, Kingston Karma, Je fais c’que j’veux, Stim Turban, Je Blesserai personne and Légendaire Sérénade, which was released only last year. Three of these albums were recorded together with Jamaican producer and musician Clive Hunt.

Pierpoljak has actually worked extensively with several prominent Jamaican musicians over the years, including Dean Fraser, Leroy ”Horsemouth” Wallace and Earl ”Chinna” Smith. In 2007 he also put out Tuff Gong Blues, an album that included combinations with numerous contemporary Jamaican singers and deejays.

Nearly half of the new compilation consists of songs from his breakthrough set Kingston Karma released in 1998. It was supposedly a commercial success with hit songs such as Pierpoljak and Je sais pas jouer, a single that sold more than a million copies.

Even though Pierpoljak has recorded in English this album is sung almost exclusively in French. His biggest hits are also in French, and that is probably why he is well-known in France and other French speaking countries, while rather unknown in the rest of the world.

He has a soft voice and a smooth tone that flows effortlessly over the one drop riddims. Lyrically he deals with politics, injustice, love and relationships.

Since this is a best of album there are several highlights. Some of these include the hip-hop tinged combination with Blackman titled Petite luminosité, Je sais pas jouer with its swirling saxophone solo and Maman, where he sings in a Gyptian-like nasal tone.

Some artists keep within their mother tongue when it comes to lyrics and information. Though French is a global language, keeping away from English can still leave some barriers when it comes to reaching a truly global audience.

Pierpoljak is one such artist, and living proof that it is certainly worthwhile for reggae fans to make an effort to explore music behind those barriers.

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The vibrating French reggae scene

France has established itself as one of the leading reggae countries. Producers such as Special Delivery, Irie Ites and Frenchie have put the country on the map and new producers and labels are popping up like mushrooms, both in France and in the French West Indies.

Reggae has been in Europe almost since the music’s inception in Jamaica some 50 years ago.

Britain was – and maybe still is – the leading European country for reggae music due to the large Jamaican population and that the island up until 1962 was a British colony. With many immigrants from the Caribbean, especially Jamaica, it was natural that the UK took reggae seriously.

But recently something has happened. According to me, the baton has been handed over to France. Or at least partly.

Serge Gainsbourg was a reggae pioneer
National idol Serge Gainsbourg is probably not widely known for his reggae productions. But he was a reggae pioneer and has meant a great deal to reggae in France, mainly for the general public.

In 1979 he dropped Aux armes et cætera, an album that partly meant a bigger breakthrough for reggae in the country. The album was recorded in Jamaica with musicians such as Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and The I Threes. But what got the most attention was the title track, a sarcastic reggae version of the French national anthem La Marseillaise.

Serge Gainsbourg is probably not widely known to the reggae audience though.

Started with sound systems
Frenchie – French producer from Maximum Sound and nowadays based in London – says that the reggae scene in France really exploded in the mid 90’s. According to him, reggae has been in France since the beginning of the 80’s.

“The journey of the French reggae scene is interesting as it started really with the sound system movement and the toasters/deejays in the mid 80’s more on a ragga tip. Now it has gone very rootsy with a lot of reggae groups doing very well,” explains Frenchie, and continues:

“The first French reggae records I remember were Pablo Master’s En a en i en o, Mikey Mossman’s La Cocaine and Pupa Leslie with Ausswiss.”

Back then only a few labels were putting out Jamaican music and Blue Moon Records used to license material from Greensleeves in the late 80’s.

Regulations changed the game
But something changed. And it was due to new governmental regulations according to Frenchie.

“In the mid 90’s the government introduced quotas in France which obliged radio and TV to play 70 per cent French speaking music. That revolutionized the reggae scene as it was the gateway for record companies to sign all the DJ’s and singers who were on the sound system circuit,” says Frenchie.

Since then much has happened. Particularly in terms of producers and labels. These are the words of Pierre Bost, co-founder of Special Delivery Music.

“The French reggae scene is not really that big. There are several great producers, but less successful artists, in international terms. Local singers are not that recognized internationally and the producers are therefore mostly interested in Jamaican and other European artists,” he says.

Vibrating scene
The French scene differs from the rest of Europe. For example, many of the artists sing in French instead of English with a patois accent.

“France has probably the largest local scene in Europe and we were early with our own reggae artists such as Tonton David, Raggasonic and Pierpoljak,” says Sir Joe, founder of label and sound system Heartical.

Sir Joe points out that France, in addition to the UK, has been the best in European reggae since the late 70’s.

“The first sound system shows in France took place in 1979 with Lone Ranger on the mic. But it took another ten years before the sound system culture reached the rest of Europe. Since the 70’s we have also had regular yearly tours including artists like U Roy, Gladiators or Israel Vibration. There are many veterans who visit France,” says Sir Joe.

Sir Joe highlights the country’s demographics as a key reason behind the reggae interest.

“France has the largest African population in Europe and also a huge quantity of immigrants coming from the French West Indies and overseas territories. It is no surprise that reggae has been popular here for so long,” explains Sir Joe.

New found interest
In recent years the popularity of reggae has spread in France, notes both Pierre Bost and Frenchie.

“Since the mid-90’s, interest has spread from French Africans to the white audience. There is now a very mixed audience,” says Pierre Bost.

Frenchie says that that he started to see a lot of French labels producing Jamaican artists around the year 2000, and the whole European production thing outside of the UK really started from Germany with Pow Pow and Germaican records.

“I think a lot of people were doing specials for their sounds in France and from then started to produce records with the knowledge they learned from producing artists on dub plates,” explains Frenchie, and continues:

“Reggae has always been strong in France, especially roots music. Europe is one of the biggest markets for reggae and there is a void in the business today, as Jamaica is not producing the kind of reggae Europeans like so they have taken matters in there own hands and are producing what they love. And are doing well with it.”

Production crew Irie Ites also believes that the French people are mainly interested in roots, and that the scene has gained a lot from producers visiting Jamaica.

“Now that the French producers know the music business and the reggae scene most of them go to Jamaica regularly and learn a lot. Jamaica represents the roots, the essence of this music. It also gives a lot of inspiration when you are there,” says Jericho from Irie Ites.

Bashment gaining interest
The interest in different genres differs between audiences, according to Pierre Bost. One drop is the biggest, but dancehall and Jamaican bashment is on the rampage.

Frenchie has also noticed this segmentation, and says:

“There is a clear division in the market in France. The French West Indian population from Guadeloupe and Martinique really like dancehall and French people like roots music more.”

Pierre Bost fills in:

“The West Indian audience is mostly interested in hard dancehall. But there are not many French producers making this type of reggae today,”

“We mainly do one drop since it’s doesn’t feel like a fad. That music will stand the test of time.”


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