Reggae has of course since decades gone international and widened its fan base, but I have known individually quite different reggae fans within the Netherlands. Black and white (and Asian, or mixed etc.). Males and females. Old and young. Some with little education, some highly educated. Of different class backgrounds. Some combine liking reggae quite equally with other genres (e.g.: some with African, funk, soul, some with hip-hop, some even with non-black music genres), while others on the other hand adhere almost “strictly” to reggae music, and do not get into much else. Some like roots reggae more than dancehall or vice versa. There are even reggae fans – believe it or not - who do not smoke the “ganja herb”.
Furthermore, some have an interest or sympathy for the related subject of Rastafari, some do not, or even despise it. The latter, despise, I find somewhat odd since Rastafari is not the same as reggae, but is nonetheless connected to it.
These differences (and similarities) between and among reggae fans/lovers intrigue me, also in relation to personal backgrounds. That’s the reason why I would like to interview specific individuals who love reggae.
Before this I have interviewed 8 persons – reggae lovers I know, “breddas” (meaning “brothers”, or "friends" in Jamaican parlance) of mine – here in the Netherlands.
I started the series on this blog with a post of June 2012, when I interviewed Abenet. In April of 2013 I interviewed Bill. After this I interviewed Manjah Fyah, in May 2014. For my blog post of August 2015, I interviewed, somewhat more extensively, (DJ) Rowstone (Rowald). In August 2016, then, I interviewed Vega Selecta. In October 2017 I interviewed DJ Ewa. Then, for my post of September 2018, I interviewed for the first time a woman, namely Empress Messenjah or Empress Donna Lee.In August 2019 I interviewed another woman, namely Sound Cista.
This time, early september 2020, I interview another “sista” of mine, whom I met in the Amsterdam reggae scene, first as Reggae "selectress" (deejay). Her selectress name is Selectress Aur'El (spelled like this), the name simply coming from her first name Aurélie. She is actually French, though having visited before regularly the Netherlands. She is from Strasbourg.
I remember having seen her play as selectress/dj at several Reggae parties in Amsterdam since around 2016 (Paradiso, Vrankrijk a.o.), sometimes with her female co-selectress Maaike Waves or the Zen Rockers. I those times liked her old-school selection, also as a welcome break from UK Steppers some of the other selecta's favoured. Rather, she played old Jamaican Roots.
I myself (as vinyl selecta) for the first time played with her at a vinyl reggae party in former squatter club OT301 in Amsterdam, in June, 2018. I enjoyed her selection at that occasion again, harkening back mostly to Old and Classic 1970s Roots Reggae, and later Roots Reggae in that beautiful tradition. She played - again! -strictly vinyl. She also selected relatively often Studio One records, including from the Rocksteady era.
I specialize broadly too as selecta, but focus regarding Roots Reggae perhaps a bit more on a later period: e.g. the Later 1970s and Early 1980s ("Channel One" or "Rockers" era), though also selectively on Studio One artists I like. I enjoy Rocksteady more than Ska, like seemingly Aur'El as well. All in all, thus, Aurélie's tastes in Reggae music seemed similar and partly "overlapping" with mine, but still with own accents.
These "own accents" in Reggae tastes makes for an interesting article and interview, but of course also her whole person(ality). She talked openly and intelligently (and pleasantly) with me, so I got to know already a bit more about her, just "hanging" with her. We over time kept meeting, up to today, also at Reggae-minded events (e.g. King Shiloh sessions), and in bars and clubs (e.g. Café Belgique and OT301 in Amsterdam), and communicated online and in person..
Over time, I saw her also play more as selectress several times, and invited her to select/play with me at Café the Zen in Amsterdam - crucial vinyl Roots Reggae sessions! - in Amsterdam a few times, in 2019.
We further spoke about a lot, even a bit her personal past, and I told something too. Her English was probably better than my French (though it could be worse, due to my "Latin" background haha), so we largely communicated in English.
Still, there are I think more things I find interesting to know about her personality and Reggae choices.. Finishing the "jigsaw puzzle" with remaining pieces, as a Dutch saying goes..
Not just for me, but I think the readers of this post may find, in general, Aur'El's story and perspective interesting, as a longtime, now Netherlands-based, French female Reggae deejay (selectress), and Reggae connaisseur and lover. Something of a more "international" view, one might say. Therefore and henceforth, this interview with her.
Underneath the photo you’ll see my questions and her answers.
Where were you born and did you grow up?
I was born in a small city in the East side of France, grew up in the countryside, and lived in Strasbourg for 20 years.
Since when (age) do you listen Reggae music?
As a child I already listened and loved a few of the most “mainstream” reggae tunes that were played on radio/TV, but didn't know much about this music. When I was like 17/18 years old, my friends bought tickets to attend Burning Spear's concert, and this has really been a big musical (and spiritual) revelation to me.
What attracted you to it, then?
Did I feel attracted? Most def., but it feels a bit like I didn't even choose myself...More like reggae chose me. I almost became an organizer and selectress "by accident", but always had this certitude that I'd found my “tribe”. I don't know how to express it, but Reggae was always in my way. It was like a call ...I just listened to it ;)
What other music genres did you listen to?
Oh, to a lot of different things like Rock, Grunge, Rap, Hip Hop, Soul, R&B and even more.. We were a bit dependent on radio and TV or on friends' tapes that we were lending to each others. I was not living in a big city (no records shop), and there was no internet back in the times...I was also searching out my dad's records' collection sometimes, and I think that my very first musical crush was for Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue”. I'm still listening to a lot of different music genres, but the number 1 will always remain Reggae.
Has there been a change in your musical preferences since then?
Back in the days, my ears were still able to take a tiny little bit of French reggae, but today I can almost not stand it anymore. My preferences have not changed though. I loved Roots Reggae the most, and it's still the case today.
Do you have any preferences within the broad Reggae genre? Does, e.g., Digital Dancehall appeal to you as much as Roots Reggae?
As I said, Roots Reggae is truly my “thing”. I don't mind Early Digital and I'm even collecting tunes, but Dancehall is a big No-No, especially if it's slackness and has sexist lyrics. I'm only listening to uplifting music and I usually prefer edutainment to entertainment.
What about Mento, Ska, and Rocksteady?
I absolutely love these music genres... My former crew and I used to have a show on a French alternative online radio. My part was called “Jamaican Musical History”, and we started from Mento which I love. Without these genres, Reggae wouldn't exist, plus most of the legends of reggae have been part of Ska or Rocksteady band/groups.
Maybe this love I have for Jamaican oldies, has its roots in some nice childhood memories, as my dad was of course owning a few Harry Belafonte tunes. It was falsely labeled as "Calypso" to sell better, but in reality, it was Jamaican Mento.
American classics were also being played in my parent's house (on Sundays as well), and as Rocksteady is a lot about covers of those old beautiful songs, it certainly made me more receptive, plus it's a real “feel good” music, because it appeared just after independence, and Jamaicans were so full of hope for better times to come...
On Jah Music Mansion (webradio station), we are playing these beautiful tunes every week in our “Rice & Peas Sunday Vibes Sessions”. I had a slot too that day, and my mixcloud is full of recordings of these Sunday Oldies Sets. My collection of ska/rocksteady records is quite big too...
Really "rough and tough" to say, further, whether I like Ska more or Rocksteady more, but I think Rocksteady, because of the slower tempo..and is easier to dance to..
Since when are you a Reggae selectress/dee-jay?
Since forever! ...as I have always been kind of a playlist bully, tape collector, or a daddy's records digger...
I started with Reggae Events organization first (in 2000, if I'm right) but I Ifficially became a selectress around 2007/2008.
Any special experiences or encounters over the years (e.g. with producers or artists)?
I'm grateful because I had a lot, but let's talk about my Top 2...
The most memorable one was my encounter with Lloyd “Bullwackies” Barnes at Moodies records HQ in the Bronx/New York City (Big Up Everytime to Earl Moodie who made it possible!). I shared this great moment with Selecta Roastbreadfruit, who is one of my Best Friend in this world (and kind of my musical twin). By the way, I highly recommend to tune in to his Weekend Radio Sessions on JahMusicMansion.com, our online reggae radio. He is an amazing Selecta and Human!
Another very cool memory was when I've been asked to keep company to Living Legend Stranger Cole.
The band and crew members had stuff to do after we had finished recording dubplates, and I was the only English speaking person available to stay at the studio with him. We spent hours talking about Jamaican music... and this man is a REAL History Book! He told me so many great stories and anecdotes (it's really a pity I didn't record all of them!), and of course, we listened to a lot of reggae and rocksteady...
Same as everywhere else...It's no secret that there is still a lot of work to do in “general” to improve our rights, recognition, or the credit that is being given to us for whatever we are doing. The Reggae scene is no exception. It's indeed a much more masculine “milieu”, and I also encountered a bit of sexism, but in my case it's also mainly men who supported and pushed me the most to play music and express myself, so...
Maybe some women don't even realize they could be part of such things, and I even witnessed some “sabotaging” themselves. I have hope, though, to see more Selectresses playing at events, and more gender balance/"mixity" in a close future...
I think our most famous and settled “all male” soundsystems (the big names), should set an example...Usually females are only good to sing or play a few notes on a melodica for “just a tune”, TY very much and basta...I rarely see them invite a female selecta to play a few hours, highlight them, or just share the deck.
What are, more in general, the differences between the Reggae scenes in France and the Netherlands, would you say?
I'm not sure to have enough knowledge about the NL scene to answer this question...I'm still discovering and observing. It doesn't look like there are major differences. France is a bigger country which makes our reggae community also much bigger, with a lot of different musical families. I made good friends in the local Amsterdam reggae scene though (Big Up to the Zen Rockers Family'!).
I also really love the work of singers like Black Omolo, Lyrical Benjie, or Rapha Pico, or/and what is coming out from the Earth Works Studios ...In Amsterdam there are indeed a bit more female selectas than in my former city, and I especially rate Mystic Tammy and Sound Cista, because they are talented, proactive, and never giving up!
Are you active in other ways within the Reggae scene as well? E.g. radio, organizing events, design, or otherwise?
When I was still living in France, I was doing a lot of graphic designs for music related projects, organized a lot of events, and I'm part of a webradio called Jah Music Mansion. Even if I'm still playing my records then and when, I'm way less active since I'm living in the Netherlands, as I had a lot of different challenges to face and less time. Of course, it's temporary and I will get back to it very soon.
I attended a lot more venues here, though, than when I was in France... when that was still possible! I still try to feed my mixcloud account, however..
Do you play any musical instruments?
I did, a long time ago, but still play drums, though.. a few rhythms..
Do you have a preference for Vinyl or Digital/CD? As listener, and as selecta/selectress?
I'm just gonna quote Macka B here:
“[...]Well I'm not saying, that you should be playing
The 7 inch 45 only
But if you are able, go buy a turntable
You can also get dem with di USB
It's alright to play laptops, alright to play CDs
It's alright to play your MP3's
But don't leave out di vinyl, cah you can use dem side by side
With the modern technology, Lord ! [...]”
Why the selectress name Aur'El?
Blame it on laziness or on a lack of inspiration...I think I was maybe just not feeling comfortable to choose a DJ alias. A lot of female reggae singers I love just kept their real names as well. I just did the same and turned the “Selecta” part into “Selectress”, as a lot of pple were expecting a man when reading my name on a flyer...
Does the Rastafari message in much of Reggae appeal to you? How does this relate to your own background, or beliefs?
Yes of course it does, since I'm mainly playing Roots Reggae/Social commentary tunes. I built some kind of knowledge about Rasta through the years, and I'm only owning tunes and listening to lyrics which are matching my mindset. I love and “need” the Spiritual aspect in Roots Reggae.
In a way, I think it even saved my life. Also, to grasp a better overstanding of what I was listening, I studied and made a lot of researches about African and Caribbean Culture & History, because I was pretty ignorant and - as everyone in Europe - got indoctrinated at school with an Eurocentrist kind of knowledge...What an enlightment it has been for me!
What kind of music (reggae) do you prefer to listen to now – at this moment -, what specific artists? Any new “discoveries” you would like to mention?
I'm mainly listening to oldies/classic Reggae tunes and Dub also. My fave singers are people like Horace Andy, Cornell Campbell, Slim Smith, The Heptones and so many more...To give you an idea, my #1 labels are Gay Feet, Studio 1, Bunny Lee, Bullwackies, SipaCup...
I also really like the Virgin Islands Roots Reggae scene, and I respect a lot the hard and nice work of the younger generation of Jamaican artists (Jah 9, Chronixx, Protoje, Kabaka, and so on).
Lately, I had a crush on an upcoming young reggae singer called Mortimer.
REFLECTION AND COMPARISON
Well, I can safely say that Aur'El's answers provided some more "pieces of the puzzle", and some very interesting information. This relates both to Aurélie as person, as well as her connection to international Reggae movements.
The "teen years" seem recurringly to be decisive in securing the musical love and tastes. I myself got into Reggae around my 12th year, while around her 17th year, Aurélie went to an inspiring concert, proving to be "life-changing" (in the good sense, not in the "Babylon" sense of crises, war, poverty, etc.), a concert that strengthened her love for Reggae. When I was that age, 17, I had started to listen to Burning Spear too ('Man In The Hills' being the first album), but only when I was about 24 (in the later 1990s), I first saw Burning Spear live (in Paradiso, Amsterdam), and a few times after that (Paradiso, Amsterdam, some festivals).. all great shows..
The "mainstream Reggae", Aurélie mentioned, I do not remember encountering much as a child: maybe in the Netherlands this was even less popular than in France, those days.. Before Reggae, I was in to some Stevie Wonder and James Brown songs (and some Latin American and Spanish music), but I liked Bob Marley immediately when I heard an album of him, around my 12th year.
The teenage years were indeed also crucial in shaping the musical taste toward Reggae, likewise of the other people I interviewed before, on this blog. Psychologically interesting: between childhood and aduthood.. Selectress Aur'El interestingly also described it as that Reggae found her, instead of the other way around..
I had some ideas about her preferences within Reggae - having heard her "selections", live and online - which were partly confirmed, or rather explained. Like my previous interviewee, Sound Cista (Carol), also a selectress, Aur'El did not like modern Dancehall, especially that with slackness and sexist lyrics. This is in line with her interest in Rastafari, Black history. "conscious" lyrics, and spirituality.
Aur'El's focus is mostly on Old Jamaican Roots, around the 1970s, with some attention to New Roots too.
Every person has of course one's own tastes and preferences, within the broad Reggae genre, and there seem to be some similarities as well as differences with my own tastes. "Chacun à son (or: sa?) goût", to say it in French.. Aur'El's interest, like mine, is quite broad. She however focusses more than me (also as selectress) on older folk genres like Mento and Rocksteady, as well as on Reggae artists I know and listen too (songs I like), but less than her. Leroy Smart, Cornell Campbell, Knowledge, and Earl Sixteen are examples, but there are so much artists in Jamaica, that each fan can't help but choose, haha. We both like Hugh Mundell, Burning Spear, and the Wailing Souls equally, on the other hand, so still nuff similarities. Like I already said, she focusses a bit more on "Studio One Reggae" than me, though I tend to like it too.
Horace Andy is one of Aur'El's favourite artists, and indeed has a unique voice and style. Horace might be in my Top 10 of singers too, but perhaps below or competing with people like Tabby Shaw, Alton Ellis, Ijahman, Junior Delgado, Bushman, and others..
I also prefer Roots Reggae over (modern) Dancehall, like her, but I think that, in comparison, I am more open to some "groovy" Dancehall - when rhythmically strong and varied -, that is musically; yet, humourless, boastful "slack" lyrics put me off at times too. Like Aur'El, I prefer "message" and "conscious" lyrics..
Aur'El is further of the "vinyl" school of Reggae selecta's/dj's (like me, partly), procuring some authenticity, as well as connections to the Netherlands-based (Polish-French) Zen Rockers selecta's, Loddy Culture, Dub Nico, and King Shiloh - and others -, also preferring to play from vinyl.
There is an interesting thread with my 2 previous interviewees: Empress Donna Lee, known as the first female Reggae selecta/selectress (deejay) in the Netherlands, active as such already since 1983 (!), and the also Amsterdam area-based Sound Cista (Carol), starting as selectress much more recently, in 2016. The latter stated she still noticed a male dominance in Reggae selecta/dj world numerically, but mostly worked well with men.
Aur'El -starting as selectress earlier, around 2007 - is somewhat more critical, though also positive about male selecta's having supported her aims. She noted (a bit) more female selecta's and dj's in the Netherlands when compared to France, which is positive. On the other hand, she pointed at still some occurring sexism and "sabotaging" in this also male-dominated scene, calling for the "big name" all-male (Reggae) sound systems (King Shiloh a.o.) to give the good example, by including more women, in a structural sense. So, there is still some improvement and equality needed.
Indeed, I noticed in Aur'El's "selecting" of Reggae (live and online), that she is skilled and experienced enough, as selectress/dj, with good transitions (between songs) and choices, according to her taste, but overall "real" music, "authentic" (older) Roots Reggae. This interview confirms also that she is quite knowledgeable about Jamaican music as a whole, thus able to present nice songs that some listeners perhaps did not know yet..
Her style seems "sober", as the music comes first. Though she speaks a bit between songs (some selecta's say nothing), it is proportionate, and neither does she seem to be of the excessive "sirene-sound" (as special sound effect) school, like other selecta's. Just good music..