The Frenchie connection

The Frenchie connection

Observer senior writer

Friday, November 30, 2018

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IN the early 1990s, most French youth who were into Jamaican music favoured roots-reggae acts like Burning Spear, Culture and Israel Vibration. Not Paris-born Fabrice Allegre, though; he was drawn to hardcore dancehall.

With not much hope of making it as a dancehall producer in his homeland, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1988 and started a record label in London five years later. That company, Maximum Sound, turned 25 this year.

Known as Frenchie, Allegre celebrated the milestone with a flurry of studio activity. He produced songs by Kabaka Pyramid and Capleton ( Hold up Your Arms), Romain Virgo ( Now) and co-produced Contradiction byAlborosie and Chronixx.

Hold up Your Armsis on State of Emergency, a rhythm compilation album released this month by Maximum Sound.

Allegre was in Jamaica recently, hanging out at dancehall hot spots like King Jammy's studio in Waterhouse. He reflected on his label's silver anniversary in an interview with Jamaica Observer; and he stressed that his approach to music is not much different than when he started.

“The process of making a song is still the most exciting thing for me. When you choose this business it's a passion before anything else — from the rhythm-building to the voicing, mixing and mastering, then promoting something you had the vision to create from scratch. It's still amazing to me and I feel privileged to have been able to live from what I love for the past 25 years,” he explained.

During that period, Allegre was involved with some of dancehall's biggest projects including Mr Vegas' blockbuster hit, Heads High, as executive producer. He co-produced songs such as Sweet Jamaica, a hit for Vegas and Josey Wales; produced Stronger by Fantan Mojah; and worked with producer Steven “Lenky” Marsden on the massive Diwali rhythm.

Being accepted in Jamaica, however, is among his greatest accomplishments.

“I have been involved whether as an engineer, producer, executive producer, manager and even A&R in a lot of big songs. Anytime I hear them play in a dance or on the radio around the world, it always gives me a good buzz,” he said. “I remember walking in a Stone Love dance and hearing one of my songs getting the biggest forward for the night — that was a pretty high point!”

Shortly after moving to the UK, Allegre cut his teeth in London reggae circles as an engineer at Fashion Records, one of the country's top independent reggae labels. He learned the production ropes there working with artistes like Alton Ellis and Buju Banton, who encouraged him to start his own label.

The music business has changed significantly since Allegre launched Maximum Sound, the dancehall scene being no exception. The compact disc has been replaced by digital medium, and music downloads have resulted in a precipitous decline in music sales.

Allegre points out that technology allows producers outside of Jamaica to get their music to Jamaican radio disc jockeys and sound system selectors in the blink of an eye. But there is also a downside.

“It's definitely not easy in Jamaica when your label is based in Europe, for all sorts of reasons, the main one being financial. For years, I used to concentrate only on the UK and Europe (because) only a few songs I produced did well in Jamaica because the artistes promoted them, like Stronger or Sweet Jamaica,” he said. “As a producer it costs a lot to push songs in Jamaica; it's more beneficial for an artiste, especially nowadays.”

Maximum Sound has a busy slate for 2019. Allegre plans to step up promotion for the State of Emergency which has songs by Anthony B, Jah Izrehl and Mortimer. He also produced the track, Play That Song, for Duane Stephenson's upcoming album.

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