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'Sadness, soul and steel pans'

MUSICAL MASH-UP: Marlon Roudette

IT’S NOT very often that you hear contemporary British singers incorporating steel pans in their music. But Marlon Roudette was keen to draw on his Caribbean roots for his debut offering.

The 29-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist, spent his childhood split between St. Vincent, where he lived with his mother Vonnie, a Vincentian artist and teacher, and London, where he resided with his English father, producer Cameron McVey, best-known for his work with Massive Attack.

Unsurprisingly, the merger of these two cultures played their part in his musical output, resulting in an album that blends UK vibes with a Caribbean twist.

“The Caribbean was a big influence me,” says the fast rising singer, who releases his album, Matter Fixed this week. “Also, growing up in Ladbroke Grove with lots of West Indian vibes around me, that’s worked its way into the music. Loving acts like Massive Attacks and Sade have also had an influence."

“I think there’s a lot of soul in what I do and it’s a really diverse album because it was written in several places around the world, but it still sounds like one project.”

Indeed, the album – inspired by a relationship break-up and the disbandment of his group Mattafix (who scored a hit in 2005 with the single Big City Life) – does boast a heartfelt and personal collection of songs, stemming genres including soul, reggae, dub and soft rock. And the Caribbean influence is certainly present.

Album track Didn’t I, with its ‘60s soul groove, sweet soulful harmonies and steel pan accompaniment, is like American doo-wop with a touch of the Caribbean. And on dancehall-tinged 10 Million, Roudette unleashes his inner Damian Marley, both singing and deejaying on the track.

“The deejaying comes naturally when I’m in the Caribbean, but I’m not a deejay in the truest sense, like people like Bounty Killer or Beenie Man, who live it. For me, it’s something I reference from time to time.”

Still, for all the Caribbean flavour, the album is devoid of any soca vibes. And with St. Vincent often associated with the carnival genre – thanks to artists such as Winston Soso and Kevin Lyttle – it seemed fitting to (playfully) tease Roudette about not incorporating these island vibes in his music.

“I’ve tried soca,” he laughs. “Winston Soso is a big star in St. Vincent; a fantastic soca musician. And growing up, I loved listening to bands like Black Sand. I love, love, love soca and I’ve tried a couple of soca tracks – but they just didn’t work out!"

“I think you’ve really got to be in that world to make it work. But I’d love to work with some soca musicians. I plan to go to Trinidad at some point this year; there’s some amazing soca coming out of Trinidad right now.”

Despite his Caribbean connections, Roudette reveals that there have been those who questioned his ethnicity. Interestingly, on album track Riding Home, he refers to himself as the “likkle bwoy with the clear skin complexion,” and he admits that there have been some who were surprised to learn of his mixed heritage.

“I have had that, but that’s only been an issue amongst people who have no experience of Caribbean culture,” he says. “Anyone from the West Indies or anyone who’s been there, knows it’s one of the most diverse places on earth. There’s obviously a huge black population, but also a huge Indian population and huge white population – there’s a big mix up."

“But it was talked about; some people maybe questioning how genuine [my Caribbean heritage] was. But it was never questioned by anyone in the Caribbean. But I am also half English. I’m a UK-based singer and songwriter and that’s also a big part of who I am.”

Roudette admits that his Englishness does earn him the occasional bit of teasing when he’s ‘back home’ with friends in St. Vincent.

“I do feel very English sometimes, especially when friends tease my [British] accent!”

But like so many British-based West Indians, Roudette can identify with the inevitable accent switch-up, which occurs depending on who he’s talking to.
He laughs: “When I’m in St. Vincent or on the phone to a [Vincentian] friend, it’s like ‘Yo, wha’ going on? I ain’t hear from you in a while boss!’ Everyone with Caribbean families can relate to that. It’s like being bilingual.”

Considering the highs and lows of spending much of his childhood in the Caribbean, Roudette says: “The high is obviously going from a council estate in west London, to a place where you can stop off at the beach on the way home from school. Growing up in a natural paradise was a definite high."

“But St. Vincent is still a developing country and as kids, you’re sort of shielded from the harsh reality of making a living on a Caribbean island."

“At first, it was a bit of a culture shock [going from the UK to St. Vincent], but now I’m so used to it. I step off the plane in St Vincent and within five minutes, I’m like a teenager again, hanging out with friends. That’s one of the benefits of going backwards and forwards from such a young age. It doesn’t feel like such a jolt. Even the weather; the other day, within 10 hours, I went from Caribbean sunshine to having to put on four or five layers of clothing!”

Unsurprisingly, the singer’s rising success is big news in St. Vincent. In fact, when the album’s first single New Age reached the top of the German charts, it not only made front page news, it earned him praise on the island – at the highest level.

“When the song got to number one in Germany, the prime minister [of St. Vincent] rang my mother to say congratulations,” Roudette reveals. “In St. Vincent, everyone knows you anyway! Everyone knows your mum and your family, and in my case, my mum’s a teacher, so she’s well known."

“But they are supremely proud of me out there, which is great. I’ve got a couple of basketball teams there and I try and meet with musicians whenever I’m there. It’s really important to me that Vincentians get what I’m doing – and they’re a hard crowd to please! Big stars have gone there and got bottled, so there’s no discrimination there!”

Matter Fixed is out on March 9 on Warner Music UK.

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