“Worry wi no worry, wi no worry, wi no worry bout them.
Wi sing fi the gyal them, this a fi dem anthem”.
You couldn’t escape that hook last summer. Konshens and Romain Virgo’s “We No Worry ‘Bout Them” was a hit all over Planet Reggae, and another triumph for Maximum Sound producer Frenchie. They’d come together to celebrate the original dancehall sound and spirit of Jamaica – two young artists in peak form, and a label that’s long forged important links between Jamaica and Europe.
Frenchie’s love of reggae and dancehall began when rifling through his brother’s record collection. In the late 80s, when computer rhythms were setting dancehalls ablaze, the teenager from Paris headed for London, where he befriended John McLean, Chris Peckings and Captain Sinbad . It was they who introduced him to the vibrant London reggae scene. After a while he was invited by John Dub Vendor to become apprentice engineer at Fashion’s A Class studio – a hotbed of musical activity where Jamaica and London met on more or less equal terms. It was at their Forest Hill premises where he learnt his craft and worked on hits by Cutty Ranks (“The Stopper”), General Levy and Top Cat, among many others. His apprenticeship encompassed dancehall, roots, lovers’ rock, crossover and even old school reggae, since legends such as Augustus Pablo, Horace Andy and Junior Delgado were all regulars at A Class.
In 1993, he launched Maximum Sound and began producing tracks featuring local and international reggae acts, including Gorillaz’ star Sweetie Irie and Stylo G’s late father, Jamaican deejay Poison Chang. Frenchie’s love of sound-system fuelled remakes of rhythms such as “Chill Out,” “Waiting In Vain” and “Sensi Addict,” and also spawned the hits that put Maximum Sound on the map. Suitably enthused, he continued to delve into his dub box with deadly effectiveness from then on, as heard on remakes of Barrington Levy’s “Here I Come” (“Intercom”) and Tenor Saw’s “Praise Jahoviah.”
By the mid-90s, he was working in Jamaica with the likes of Sly & Robbie, Dean Fraser, Richie Stephens, Mr. Vegas and Red Rat – also Stephen “Lenky” Marsden who produced ‘Diwali,’ which spawned international hits by Sean Paul (“Get Busy”) and Wayne Wonder (“No Letting Go.”), became a frequent collaborator. He was also executive producer of two Mr. Vegas albums for Greensleeves, including “Heads High.” Once he’d made his mark and proved his worth – not an easy task for any overseas’ reggae producer – Frenchie’s tracks began to regularly feature on albums by artists such as Capleton, Da’ville, Morgan Heritage & Junior Kelly, whose “Tough Life” ranks among the sing-jay’s finest work.
Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Sizzla, Bounty Killer, T.O.K, Sean Paul and Vybz Kartel all flocked to his label as the Millennium got underway. These artists were among the biggest names in Jamaican music at that time, and appeared on best-selling one-rhythm albums such as “Jumbie,” “Blue Steel,” “Fowl Fight” and “World Jam”.
Whilst continuing to make strides in the dancehall arena, Frenchie was also busy spearheading a reggae resurgence back in his native France with hits by Raggasonic, who’ve sold more than 600,000 albums to date. Their album “Raggasonic 3” is testament to the band’s lasting appeal, but then Frenchie was never one to let the grass grow under his feet. In addition to his work with Raggasonic he’s also produced albums with Daddy Nuttea and Big Red; recorded tracks with France’s No. 1 rap group NTM and collaborated with Neg’marrons, who had a Top 20 hit with “Tout le Monde Debout,” featuring Mr Vegas. This in turn led to a collaboration with another Platinum selling group 113, who he’d teamed up with Buju Banton.
As more traditional reggae style songs became popular, he compiled the best-selling “Biggest Reggae One Drop Anthems” for Greensleeves and embarked on a quartet of albums by Anthony B, including the highly acclaimed “Black Star ” & “Higher Meditation”. He also produced albums with Jah Mason and Lukie D, whose two sets – incorporating a rich mix of soul, gospel and r&b vocals with reggae and dancehall beats including the classic “Deliver Me” – have been hailed as the singer’s best-ever work. Frenchie was also executive producer & producer of Fantan Mojah’s “Stronger” album – the title track of which spawned the No. 1 video on Jamaican television.
A succession of celebrated Rasta singers and dee-jays – including the likes of Tarrus Riley, Morgan Heritage, Alborosie, Jah Cure, Sizzla, Capleton and Gyptian – began to regularly grace his sessions from then on, enhancing both their own reputations and that of the self-effacing Frenchman. Rhythms such as “Jahoviah”, “I Know My Herbs,” “Matches Lane,” “Blackboard ,” “Zion Train,” “Jah Powers,” “Vineyard Town,” “ the Session” and “Blood Dunza” displayed skilful mastery of the contemporary roots idiom, which then culminated in two volumes of “Bobo Revolution” – albums packed with killer root tunes, and which one reviewer accurately described as “the best such compilations on the market.”
A series of reissue projects highlighting some of the best reggae music of the nineties further underlined his gift for compilations. Released under the banner of Maximum Pressure, this series has so far featured anthologies by the likes of Bobby Digital, Xterminator, King Jammy and the late Winston Riley – producers whose work embraces cultural and dancehall material alike, much like Frenchie’s own.
Other bestselling rhythms soon followed, including “Ghetto State Of Mind” featuring Bounty Killer, Assassin & Half Pint – a dancehall smash that brilliantly reworked the latter’s “One Big Ghetto.” Listen out too, for matching cut “Ghetto Youths Rise” by Sizzla, who’s another top-ranking Jamaican superstar to grace the label.
“Sound Xterminata” was again sheer excitement – a Maximum Sound take on the “Koloko” rhythm featuring Mr. Vegas (“Another Sound Dead”), Assassin (“Mad Sound”), Lukie D and the return of 80s’ favourites Burru Banton & Joe Lickshot, as well as Carl Meeks – now teamed with Fantan Mojah on “Haul And Pull Up.”
Christopher Martin provided the label’s next hit. “Top A Top” lived up to its billing by reaching No 1 on the Choice FM charts and matching cuts to the “Fairground” rhythm by fellow up-and-coming Jamaican talents like I Octane and Konshens proved just as impressive. “Zinc Fence” introduced UK newcomer Stylo G, who’s now a name on everyone’s lips. Other cuts featured established acts like Ce’Cile, Fantan Mojah and Luciano, whose lyrics on “Identity” commented on the craze for skin lightening creams in Jamaica.
It was Frenchie who produced Luciano’s “United States Of Africa” – an album that helped rejuvenate this well-loved Jamaican singer’s career back in 2010. The two also combined for “Perilious Times” on the “Dance Ruler” Riddim with further cuts by Robert Lee and Dean Fraser. Jamaica’s master saxman also features on the genre defining “Skateland Killer” – a mighty roots rhythm that roared from speaker boxes worldwide thanks to hit songs by Tarrus Riley & Captain Sinbad (“Worldwide Rebellion”), Alborosie and Luciano.
As 2012 approached, there would be no let-up. Tarrus Riley again starred on Frenchie’s next three rhythms. Yami Bolo and Mr. Vegas (with “Jah Is The Fire” and “Jamaica Nice” respectively) shone on ‘Rude Boy Be Nice,’ whilst Cecile, Agent Sasco and Sizzla provided highlights on ‘Most Royal,’ which was another striking collaboration between Frenchie and Stephen “Lenky” Marsden. ‘Mightiest’ was the third of these rhythms and in addition to Tarrus Riley’s “Life Story,” featured Exco Levi’s memorable “Take A Walk In My Shoes.”
2013 saw the ‘Tin Mackerel’ rhythm making a grand entrance with already mentioned ‘We No Worry Bout Them ‘ but also “Flash Up Unu Lighter” by Mr. Vegas, Natel with the irrepressible Major Mackerel and matching cuts by Burro Banton and Cecile kept dancehall fans happy.
‘Number One Station’ – a rhythm first heard behind Captain Sinbad’s “Reggae Music Will Mad Unu.” This was the title track of the veteran deejay’s comeback album, produced by Frenchie. It was a set that perfectly recaptured the sound of early 80s’ dancehall, and earned widespread acclaim on its release.
Frenchie also co-produced Mr. Vegas’ worldwide hit featuring Shaggy and Josey Wales “Sweet Jamaica” and more recently “No Plastic Dolly,” taken from Vegas’ latest album “Reggae Euphoria.
In the summer of 2014 came ‘Jah Blessings’ (led by Jah Cure’s sublime “Save My Soul”) and ‘Imperial Crown.’ Frenchie has proven the wisdom of investing time and money into doing things properly. He also shares a commitment to helping newer artists gain more exposure, and especially those delivering a cultural message. Jesse Royal’s “Raising Your Voices For Freedom” was one of the outstanding cuts to ‘Imperial Crown,’ together with Exco Levi’s “What Is The Use” and Dre Island’s “Let Jah Love Shine Down.” Another finds Addis Pablo, son of Augustus, playing melodica just like his famous father. These names are among the new wave of talented youngsters to emerge from Jamaica, and Maximum Sound also works with their counterparts from Europe and beyond, including Randy Valentine and Gappy Ranks.
It was Randy Valentine’s “Splice Dubplate” that helped ensure Frenchie’s remake of the ‘Ali Baba’ rhythm was a dancehall favourite throughout 2014. The original was produced by Bunny “Striker” Lee some forty years earlier, and mixed by the legendary King Tubby. The prodigious Mr. Lee also provided the samples behind the ‘Leggo Di Riddim’ – a wonderful reimagining of the Uniques’ “Let Me Go Girl,” featuring the late Slim Smith. Tarrus Riley’s “Lovers Leap” and Captain Sinbad’s “Jamaica 50” – voiced in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Jamaican Independence – were among the standout cuts but then there’s nothing on Maximum Sound that can’t play in a club or a dance, no matter the style. Frenchie’s productions have a habit of soaking into your bone marrow and especially when played at Maximum Volume …