France’s Reggae history began in earnest in the late 70s. Pop stars had flirted with reggae before; the 70s saw Robert Palmer cutting a song at Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studios, and Paul Simon recording at Dynamic Sounds. But the first full LP, recorded in-situ in Jamaica came by way of France. At the time a cult figure who was well-regarded for his soundtracks and for penning other singers’ hits, Serge Gainsbourg became infatuated with Reggae at the tail-end of the 70s. At Dynamic Sounds, Gainsbourg organized an all-star lineup that included legendary rhythm section Sly & Robbie as well as Bob Marley’s backing singers, the I Threes, and recorded “Aux armes et cætera”. Released in 1979, it was a smashing -albeit controversial – success back in France, and helped showcase the rousing rhythms and studio wizardry of Jamaica to a French audience. This was Reggae’s breakout moment, and set the stage for the next decade.
Into The Deep Treasury’s sterling new compilation Riddim Poetry picks up at the dawn of the 80s. Reggae was gaining a stronger foothold across France, and musicians from diverse backgrounds were attuning themselves to the intricacies of the genre. In particular, Reggae resonated amongst diasporic communities of musicians from Africa & the Caribbean, who interpolated Reggae through their own background. The compilation spotlights the Reggae-Rai hybrid of Moroccan pioneer Cheb Kader, the syncopated Reggae-Funk of East African ensemble Apartheid Not, and the Mandé Reggae of Malian musician Nawari. Reggae was also a fertile ground for the experimentation of Library Music composers, or the serendipity of a chance studio encounter.
The collaboration between french singer Tchaï and UK roots outfit Merger yielded one 12”: a deep reggae cover of Yoko Ono’s “Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him”. Their version flips the new wave pulse of the Yoko Ono original into a rocking roots beat as a bedrock for Tchaï’s dreamy singing. It retains the woozy chords from the original, but the heavy bassline would be a perfect fit for France’s burgeoning Sound System culture at the time. The track dissolves into a vaporous dub in a proper discomix style, floating on until Tchaï’s voice is punched back in and echoed out. The original 12” has been a favourite of astute selectors like Time Is Away and Noise In My Head for years, and is preserved here in its untruncated seven minute version – a crucial cut of France’s Reggae history.
Riddim Poetry will be released on Into The Deep Treasury on 6 September.