A French toast to reggae

By Howard Campbell Observer senior writer

Sunday, February 17, 2013

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(italic intro) With February being Reggae Month, this is the fourth in an eight-part series looking at reggae's global influence. The music originated in Jamaica, but it has been embraced by people in many countries. Today, we feature the Charly B from France.

SINCE his first visit to Jamaica as an exchange student in 1998, French singer Charly B says he has been hooked on reggae. Even with a growing fan base in his homeland, he believes it is critical to establish himself in the country that has inspired his music.

Charly B is in Portland recording songs for a new album. Production is taking place at Gee Jam Studio, where noted acts like No Doubt, Amy Winehouse and Alicia Keys have recorded.

He is the recent winner of Reggae Europe, an Internet competition which offered a winner's prize of recording at the Port Antonio studio.

With three albums (Reality, More Reality and Family Affair) under his belt, Charly B is keen to follow the path of other European reggae singers like Italy's Alborosie and Gentleman of Germany and make a mark in Jamaica.

"It not easy for a foreigner to record outside of Jamaica an' mek it," he says in his best patois. "Yuh have to come here like Snow and Alborosie and soak up the reggae vibe."

Snow, the Canadian singjay, did well among hardcore dancehall fans in the 1990s with songs like Informer and Anything For You. Alborosie, from Sicily, is one of the best touring acts in contemporary reggae.

Charly (real Charlie Blanvillain) hails from Marseille, a city in the south of France famous for its wine industry. On his latest visit to Jamaica, he is working with producer Rick Elgood, a graduate of the British school of punk/reggae and director of the 1995 movie, Dancehall Queen.

One of the tracks they are recording is an English version of Prayer, a hit for Charly B in France. He says the song is spiritual but transcends any particular religion.

"It's a song of love...I don't call Jesus Christ, Rasta or Alla. It's a song for everyone."

France has always been a strong market for reggae and Jamaican artistes. Roots acts like Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Culture and The Congos are revered there, so too Toots and The Mayals who maintain a steady tour schedule of the country.

Though Charly B's influences are decidedly more contemporary -- from neo-roots acts like Garnet Silk to lovers rock singer Glen Washington and the controversial deejay Vybz Kartel -- he says the French are still into the traditional reggae sound.

"Dem like dancehall but dem want to hear great horns, some heavy bass line and great lovers rock," he said.

Charly B's fourth album, which he says will contain "15 songs for the world" is scheduled to be released this year.

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