My new album will be out in September, I decided to collaborate with my old mates from Guadeloupe and France in this album. This album is about love and this is the first time I’ve done that. I put out ten songs covering different aspects of love from the first meeting to the break up. It was a process of writing something that everyone can relate to on account of their own experience or they might know someone who has gone through it. This was not the case in my previous albums because I was writing music for myself then, like someone who takes up painting or gardening as an interest.
Fabrice Mareau is known for his deep, resonating voice, almost a bellow from the soul, coarse and raw, hovering over the smooth streams of reggae and folk rhythms and easy melodies. The Caribbean-French musician is much loved for his unique style of red, gold and green folk, but he plays down his capacious talent and acclaim, rejecting the trappings of fame for a balanced, normal life. He is an artist in singular pursuit of the song.
In this interview with the Arab Times, he traces his musical journey, reveals details of his upcoming album, underscores the necessity of hard work and discusses the state of music today, among other matters.
Arab Times: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from and where did you grow up?
Fabrice Mareau: I am Caribbean-French. I spent the first fourteen years of my life in Guadeloupe.
When I was about 25 years old, I joined a reggae band, the Rude Boys Syndicate, and we provided backing for visiting Jamaican artists and toured with them through Switzerland, Holland, and a little bit of Germany and France.
When I was 30, I decided to build something of my own. My first album was a mix of jazz and Afro-roots Caribbean music in French. It worked very well for me, I toured with it in Europe met a lot of great people who helped me with the music I was doing.
At 38, I started to explore a mix between reggae, folk and soul music which I like to call red, gold and green folk.
AT: What is the musical culture of Guadeloupe?
FM: The root of musical culture in the Caribbean is gwoka, a deeply percussive and responsive style that was traditional to the slaves who came from Africa. They later mixed it with jazz, soul and rock. So in different parts of the Caribbean, it evolved into different styles of music. In Jamaica, you have reggae, in Barbados, you have soca, in Guadeloupe, you have zouk. But all of the music has the same roots, mixed with mainly American music.
AT: What were your musical influences when you moved to France?
FM: There were two individuals who were very important to me, musically. I greatly admired Prince for the way he used to manage the scene, the instruments and the studio work, and Bob Marley for his lyrics and message. Those were my main influence.
I have also been influenced by a lot of artists that come from different genres from hard rock to hip hop, soul, jazz and classical music. I listen to almost everything. Now, I am more interested in Arabic music because I am here in Kuwait and I want to discover more of it.
AT: At what age did you start playing music? What were the first instruments you picked up?
FM: When you live in the Caribbean islands, you dance and you play music. We do not consider it something you have to study, it’s just part of our lives. I remember dancing in my grandmother’s house almost every weekend. After dinner, we would push the furniture to the side, turn the music a little loud and dance together as a family. I used to play percussion at the carnival when I was just six years old with my friends and my mother. So I didn’t grow up thinking of making music as something intimidating or peripheral.
The first harmonic instrument I learned to play was the guitar when I was thirteen. We had moved to France and I’d expressed my desire to my parents so they bought me a guitar and I learnt almost everything by myself. I went to the classical school but left it after three months.
When I was 17, I used to have those little tapes where you could put in four different tracks, and have a song. So I was doing that by myself because I used to love music. I bought a bass guitar next after working a summer job to pay for it and it went on from there. A friend of mine heard the tape and liked it, and invited me into his studio. We made different demos and I won the first prize for a song at a competition in Nice.
Then I was given a small contract to make LPs. I started to meet people and I began to study live sound mixing. So, I was studying literature during the year and in the summers, I was providing live sound for different bands. That is how my performing journey began, I used to play the guitar during sound check and I was invited to play bass and I connected with people from thereon.
AT: How did you end up in Kuwait?
FM: I’ve always been on the move, spending a year in my city, Montpellier, and a year abroad in Copenhagen, London, Germany etc. I came across a job listing on a website for a French teacher in Kuwait and I thought to myself, ‘Why not?’
In the beginning, before I could here, I knew very little about Kuwait. There was almost no information on Kuwait in French, it was like a no man’s land. I just brought a suitcase and a guitar and came here; that was five years ago.
AT: How has your time in Kuwait been since then?
FM: It’s been good. I met my wife in Kuwait, and we had our son here. I have very good friends here. I think I’ll stay probably stay on another one or two more years because I feel that I need to discover something else. It is the first time I have stayed five years in one country so I feel that Kuwait must be very special. I don’t feel the passage of time here.
AT: Tell us a little bit about your upcoming album.
FM: My new album will be out in September, I decided to collaborate with my old mates from Guadeloupe and France in this album. This album is about love and this is the first time I’ve done that. I put out ten songs covering different aspects of love from the first meeting to the break up. It was a process of writing something that everyone can relate to on account of their own experience or they might know someone who has gone through it. This was not the case in my previous albums because I was writing music for myself then, like someone who takes up painting or gardening as an interest.
I am quite happy with this album. It’s turned out the way I wanted it to. Sometimes you set out to do something and it doesn’t quite work out that way. A few people have heard it so far and have liked it.
I’m not sure of the name yet. I’m taking the summer to make videos because now people need to have that, they listen to music with the eyes. So you need to bring something for the eyes!
AT: What are your expectations from this album?
FM: I have an everyday job and to be honest, to be famous in Kuwait is quite impossible at the moment. But things are getting better and I hope that soon that someone will be able to build a career not just in Arabic music but as an international artist. I’m sure it’s possible but it’s going to take time.
AT: How is this album a departure from your previous work?
FM: The first one was like a declaration of rights – who I am, what I want to do, what I have to say. My level of sound engineering wasn’t that good in the first album but some of the songs I’d written then, I still play today. I think that is the mark and sign of good music.
In the second album, the aesthetics and the mixing of the instruments was way better but there are just two songs from that that I play on stage. I feel that in the third album I focussed too much on the music and the sound and not enough on the lyrics. So, the music quality was good but songs weren’t as impactful.
The latest album is the best I have ever done in terms of writing, composition, sound engineering, mixing, and arranging the music, all of it. I am very proud of the finished product. Of course, there’s no guarantees that next year, I will find fault with it and say that it is not good. But for the moment I am really happy with my work.
The album will feature a trumpeter from Guadalupe, an African and Caribbean female singer with a really deep, soulful voice who she is doing the backing vocals. It is really beautiful.
I would have loved to produce an album here but I feel that it won’t be possible because there is a lack of maturity and those who are mature enough, have their own priorities. I try to collaborate more with Amin, Mr. Fari, as a musician and sometimes as an artistic director. I think he has a great talent for writing good songs and melodies. For me, it is interesting just to be a bass player and help him make those songs stronger.
AT: What is your song-writing process?
FM: I don’t have a process but there is a particularity. About ten years ago I started writing the music and lyrics together. When I write my lyrics, I always have a guitar with me. I prefer for the music and lyrics always go together. For example, if I use the word – nevertheless, which indicates a different direction in my sentences, I need different turn in my chords or rhythm as well. I need the music and the lyrics to really stick together.
AT: In your opinion what have been the most significant changes in the music industry?
FM: This is not a recent change but the main problem in the music industry is that the recording companies are led by people who don’t know anything about music but who are experts in sales. Music is no more an art but it is a product for the big companies. Everybody knows this, you can feel it.
I think the internet has helped a lot of artists find a following. Even though a song isn’t played on the radio or seen on TV, you can navigate through social media to find good music and share it.
I know a lot of musicians who have accepted that they won’t make a lot of money with music. They no longer want to become famous, they just want to keep making music. Unfortunately, not everyone realises that being famous is a trap. I, personally, would hate it. It brings far too many problems with it. There is a growing of talented people who recognise this and are opting for a normal life with balance between making music, touring and families.
AT: What are the challenges to the growth of a vibrant music scene here in Kuwait?
FM: I think where the music scene is lacking is in terms of organisation, timing, and rehearsing. Musicians have to develop a better work ethic, be on time for rehearsals and don’t cancel for nothing.
There have been a lot of improvements over the years and what the scene needs now is time. It was the same in France in the 60s. People worked to build a community and a scene. It is a long process and I’m sure if things keep up this way, in ten years, you will find an impressive music scene in Kuwait.
Work is necessary and if you say you love something, there are no excuses or shortcuts. People over here aren’t as willing to put in the work and rehearse long hours, I remember rehearsing eight hours earlier. Here, it is impossible. If you want to increase your level, there is no other solution. Whatever you do in life, if you are an architect or a football player, if you don’t work, you won’t fully realise your potential.
AT: What advice would you give to younger musicians today?
FM: First of all you need to know what you want to do and then decide to do that.
Humility is also very important. The more you meet talented poeple, the more you will realise that they all share the trait of humility. Even if they a big persona on stage, they are often grounded off stage.
Hard work is not an option. I know really great musicians who are very talented and put in long hours and are dedicated to their music. This is something I don’t see enough of among musicians in Kuwait.
AT: Where do you see yourself in the future?
FM: I will be fine as long as my music continues to evolve and I grow as a person. Music is something that you need in order to be happy in life but so is family and health. So I hope to have a good balance in that regard. All I want is to be able to make new mistakes and learn from them, make better music and improve on the lyrics I write, and ultimately, be a better human being.
By Cinatra Fernandes – Arab Times Staff
Photos courtesy of Fabrice Mareau