Claude Fontaine

Claude Fontaine is an American girl with a French name who never felt like she fit in anywhere she happened to call home, and one particular year she was awash in a grey London fog that matched the fog and grey in her own too-recently broken heart. While living right off Portobello Road, she stumbled into the record store down the street. And in a flash of luck — or fate — that particular record store turned out to be Honest Jon’s, a long-lived spot for records collected from the furthest edges of the world. She’d never heard those old Studio One and Trojan and Treasure Isle reggae and rocksteady and dub records before — the same records that got the Clash covering “Police And Thieves,” and the Slits sharing a bill with Steel Pulse. And she’d never heard bossa nova and tropicalia and Brazil’s incandescent música popular brasileira, either. But instantly, she understood — it was exactly and perfectly everything she didn’t know she needed.

And because she loved those records so much, she decided to make a record of her own — an album singing her own love songs (with Jane Birkin-style ye-ye elan) that was itself a love song to classic reggae and Brazilian music, and an album honoring that feeling of finding a home away from home. Ferociously inspired, she demo-ed a set of songs about heartbreak and loneliness, and drafted a wish list of musicians she’d hope would help out. At the top were guitarist Tony Chin, whose playing with Althea and Donna, King Tubby, Dennis Brown and so many more very arguably defined a gigantic part of the classic reggae sound, and Airto Moreira, the Brazilian drummer whose work both solo and in collaboration — with Miles Davis, Astrud Gilberto, Chick Corea, Annette Peacock — make him an actual living legend.

But after diligent detective work — long chains of emails and voicemails, tracing between LA industry veterans and globetrotting photographers and the label that would put out her finished record, though she didn’t know that yet — she found them. Then she sent them her demos. Then they said yes.

She finished her album in two potent sessions with Chin, Moreira and a murderer’s row of their connections — bassist Ronnie McQueen of Steel Pulse and Ziggy Marley drummer Rock Deadrick, Now Again Records guitarist Fabiano Do Nascimento, Sergio Mendes percussionist Gibi Dos Santos and Flora Purim bassist Andre De Santanna. Side A is the reggae, five songs about love gone wrong that sound like they came out of Jamaica in the early 70s; side B wasn’t specifically designed to be the bossa or Brazilian side, but that’s how it worked out. All together, it’s a valentine to this special music that called out to her from the other side of the planet.


Reggae Royalty: a Conversation with Tony Chin and Ronnie McQueen

By Claude Fontaine | July 15, 2019

Reggae Royalty: a Conversation with Tony Chin and Ronnie McQueen

Claude Fontaine interviews the legends about the legacy of reggae’s international explosion and the curiously kindred spirit it found in punk.