For the love of Reggae - French national dedicated to Jamaica's creative industry
EVERYONE CALLS him Sherkhan, like the villainous tiger in the classic children’s story The Jungle Book.
With a taste for the ferocious, he sports tiger stripes, tattooed on his upper arm. He even named his record label Tiger Records. But the France native gives his birth name, for formality sake, as Romain Chiffre. Like many other Europeans, he was introduced to reggae back in the ’80s, when the genre began to attract worldwide consumption.
Chiffre named his two favourite artistes as Ella Fitzgerald and Sizzla Kalonji.
“I mean, Ella died. It was just Sizzla left,” he laughed. This was the reason he gave for his subsequent immersion in Jamaican culture. Though he didn’t understand what he was hearing, he was hooked on Sizzla’s music.
When The Sunday Gleaner, asked Chiffre to explain his attraction to the music, he just grinned, looked upwards, and said the words “the vibes”.
Chiffre grew up in France in a family who he said is littered with those who have, in some way or the other, worked in filmmaking. His own father is a stuntman and filmmaker. As a young man, Chiffre went to art school, where he studied as a hyper-realistic painter, a skill he later translated into graphic design, then again into film production.
CONNECTED TO REGGAE
Unable to let go of his connection to reggae music, particularly Sizzla, Chiffre eventually founded his own reggae band called Zebra Experience in 1995.
“I play bass guitar, guitar, turntables – scratching and all,” he said, doing an imaginary demonstration. Zebra Experience disbanded after four years and two albums, after which Chiffre travelled to Morocco for a while, producing an experimental film and a music project. He was able to record an album and collaboratively produced a film with another film-maker, Nicolas Joubard. He hoped to repeat the experience in Jamaica, the birthplace of Sizzla Kalonji.
After visiting the island for the first time in 2000, Chiffre made a bold move and relocated to Jamaica permanently. For the past 13 years, Chiffre has been a well-oiled working wheel in the music industry. He founded his own record label called Tiger Records and has produced music for his own reggae idol Sizzla; his wife, Diana Rutherford; Tanya Stephens; Chrisinti; and Lutan Fyah. Pulling on the influence of his father, Chiffre extended his role in the Jamaican industry, directing music videos for the likes of Alkaline, Stitchie, and Ken Boothe.
After 13 years of full immersion, Chiffre told The Sunday Gleaner that he has noticed the efforts of young reggae artistes, in particular, “the reggae revivalists, and I don’t mean church revival,” he clarified.
Still, he has made many film recordings, developing a 30-episode documentary series called Just Human, À La Jamaïque’, which was designed to introduce local culture to the world in easily digestible vignettes.
His film-making has grown even more, professionally, leading him to work on documentaries about Gussie Clarke, Bobby Digital, and Donovan Germain for the highly regarded VP Records. And so, Chiffre has adjusted his role as part of the Jamaican creative industry, from music producer and music video director to full-fledged filmmaker.
Chiffre maintains his demonstration of devotion to the Jamaican creative industry, combining the influence of his family background, his love of reggae music, and his own creative studies and motivations, all culminating in the production of the short film called Rock Dem.
The release party for the short film took place at Nanook on Burlington Avenue, recently and was well supported. Rising reggae star Exile Di Brave, real name Clayton Johnson, who plays the film’s central character, ‘Bushmaster’, alongside the other players, Infinite and Kazam Davis, were in attendance.
“When you love something ... .” he trailed off with a shrug, happily baring his teeth, his expression showing clearly that the ‘vibe’ remains right.