From the Caribbean's nature isle — Dominica — comes soprano marie-claire. The Italian-trained classical singer is in Jamaica working on what, from all appearances, is destined to be a groundbreaking musical project.
"I am now fusing opera with reggae, dancehall and hip hop to create this new sound," marie-claire told the Sunday Observer. The project forms part of the work she is putting into her, her maiden album aptly titled Dreamland.
So much of the singer's passions are tied up in this project and it seems her dreams are about to come true. To begin with, just this past week, she has gotten a grant (or soft loan) from the government of Dominica to fund this dream project of hers. Secondly, the Dominican private sector and some busines interests in the United States, have thrown their weight behind the production of the album.
Then from a musical perspective, it enjoys the contribution of one of Jamaica's finest singers/songwriters, Bob Andy. And that's not all, also lending his musical talent and expertise to the project is veteran Jamaican musicians/producers, Earl 'Chinna' Smith and Glen Browne, to mention a few.
"I am producing the album myself... it's self produced. And I have received the funds from the government of the commonwealth of Dominica that will assist me in the completion of dreamland. Bob Andy wrote me a recommendation to the government which was amazing. And members of the private Sector of Dominica as well as the United States have helped me in making this trip," marie claire said.
Pressed to disclose the amount of funds she received from the Dominican government, all she was prepared to devulge was. "It's a grant, like a soft loan." When asked what benefit to accrue to the government of Dominica marie-claire response was. " I am a Dominican, so I will be promoting the country everywhere I go. They need to do something like that here."
She went on to explain more about Bob Andy's involvement in the project. "Bob Andy has also written me a song called Constellation and this the first time I am actually singing an original song blending the two genres, mixing opera with reggae. So it's a great honour.
Another well known song included on the album on which her operatic virtuosity is featured, is Bob Marley and the Wailers' Rastaman Chant (Fly Away Home) complete with Nyahbinghi drummers.
marie-claire who made her debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Grand Opera Company, is no stranger to Jamaica. "I am a regular. I love Jamaica. " affirmed the songstress who has been making her presence felt on the local entertainment circuit, especially in the Corporate Area.
"I believe in going to the source. Because when I studied opera I could have studied opera in New York. But I went to Italy to learn opera because that's where it was created. So when I am mixing opera with reggae/ dancehall, where else I am going to go but Jamaica. I am recording at Danny Champagne's Studio along with his producer Dre," exuded marie-claire.
An open-mike performance at Village Vanguard, while marie-claire was an Archeology student at Brooklyn College, was the starting point for her musical development. Since then she has gone from performing on the jazz and country and western circuit to performing with the Austin Lyric Opera Company and to studying opera, at the Conservatory of Santa Cecelia in Rome, Italy where she lived for three years.
Her first performance in her native Dominica was the solo recital — A Night at the Opera. She has also performed at Cable and Wireless Creole in the Park, Nature Fest, Creole and All That Jazz. In Dominica, marie-claire made her mark in television as well, by co-creating, co-producing and hosting Video Best — the first ever video music show in Dominica.
Speaking of TV, her music has been featured in the films Lovin Jezebel, The Roommate and marie-claire herself was part of the cast of the second season of The Chappelle Show on Comedy Central.
"I think it's divine intervention. I think God has blessed me with an incredible creative mind. And with a huge voice. And being born in Dominica and being raised in the Bronx, lends itself to having so many musical genres in my head. My uncle who was a major influence in my life he is a gynaecologist, but he was also a drummer. And he had all kinds of music in the house playing," explained marie-claire.
Added she. "Reggae was always there, y'know. I mean in the Bronx I have Jamaican neighbours. On Saturdays you have sounds systems speakers are out on the streets. And from Friday night til Sunday afternoon, you are hearing reggae/dancehall all weekend. So it's very much a soundtrack.
"Hip hop beats and dancehall beats they go so well with the intensity of an operatic voice. Because the beats for dancehall and hip hop, they're intense, y'know — hard driving. And when you put an operatic voice over it, it just rises to another level."
Speaking of the challenges she faced in her vision for creating such musical innovation, she disclosed. "I had a demo deal with Epic Records in New York and they dropped me because they didn't know what to do with me. It was too different, trying to do the same opera with hip hop. That was at least five, six years ago. They loved it but they didn't know where to place me, what to do with me. It's been a long road."
marie-claire is set to perform at the School of Music auditorium this evening, one of the acts on Jazz 'N More — a fundraiser being organised to raise funds for music scholarships. "The marriage of opera, and reggae/dancehall is something that I believe can go far," marie-claire asserted.