Francesca von Habsburg's reggae vibration

Published: Friday | May 15, 2009

Chester Francis-Jackson, Contributor

Cat Coore (left) and Francesca von Habsburg during the recording session. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

She was born Francesca Anne Dolores Freiin Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon et Impérfalva, in Lausanne, Switzerland. The daughter of the late industrialist Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his third wife, fashion model Fiona Frances Elaine Campbell-Walter.

In January of 1993, she married Archduke Karl von Habsburg, known in blue-blood circles as Archduke Karl of Austria (Karl Thomas Robert Maria Franziskus Georg Bahnam von Habsburg-Lothringen), Prince Imperial of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia. He was born in Germany to Otto von Habsburg and Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen and the grandson of the last Austrian emperor, Charles I.

Archduke Karl von Habsburg is the current head of the Austrian branch of the Order of the Golden Fleece; his non-royal role also sees him serving as a European MP and the director general of Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO).

It was a marriage that caused the British and European press to dub her "the 'it' girl that became an empress". Archduke Karl von Habsburg is the de facto heir to the Ottoman Empire and, as his wife, Francesca became the archduchess and empress-in-waiting to the Austro-Hungarian empire, were it ever to be restored.

Work as an actress

It is reported that she left St Martin's College of Art and Design in London after an argument with her tutor. She then went on to work as an actress, singer and model during the 1980s, earning the reputation as an 'It' girl. Her name became synonymous with fabulous wealth and serious partying; living in England, New York and Los Angeles before moving to Lugano to become curator for her father's art collection.

But that's her European bona fides. At her home away from home at her Alligator Head estate in Port Antonio, bequeathed to her by her father, Francesca von Habsburg is known simply as Miss Francesca.

A few years ago, one of her soirées featured a mento band and kumina dancers entertaining at her home. Long regarded by many in the artistic world as the sainted patron of the arts, she commissioned and produced The Alligator Head Sista P Sessions - a fabulous CD celebrating mento and kumina in their purest forms. Well, Francesca von Habsburg, is back in the recording studios again, this time as co-producer!

Luvs, for her 50th birthday celebrations last year, she threw what was deemed a fab-fest of a smasheroni in Morocco. It was was as much about celebrating life, friends and family, as it was about celebrating music. The weekend-long event even had her friend Cat Coore of Third World fame joining a slew of international celebrities and musicians in Morocco for the event. It was whilst there that the genesis for her return to the recording studios was born. Her inspiration sprang from an impromptu jam session between Cat Coore and celebrated Danish reggae band - Hjálmar. She decided then and there that Jamaica and its music would benefit greatly from a collaboration between the two.

Coore and Hjálmar

Members of the Danish reggae band Hjálmar (from left): Bandleader Helgi Svavar Helgason, Thorsteinn Eincrsson - vocalist; Sigurdur Gudmundsson - percussionist; Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjonsson - drummer, and Gudm Kristinn Jonsson in the Harry J Recording studios for a recording of their fourth reggae album. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

And so it was that, after ironing out of schedules, she finally got Coore and Hjálmar together in Jamaica, the birthplace and home of reggae.

While the idea of a Danish reggae band has the ring of novelty to it, the many musicians who have been working with them since their arrival in the island have disabused of the notion that here are just another "white group, a try a ting"!

The five-man band has three previous reggae albums to their credit. While little known in Jamaica, they have scored some solid hits on Danish and other European charts. The single Spar from their third album debuted at number two in Denmark; and they have also toured Europe and North America.

However, in the mind of co-producer, von Habsburg, while the band is indeed a first-class one, it was lacking one vital ingredient - the Jamaican input. It was with this in mind that she invited them to record in Jamaica.

Jam session

We caught up with them at the Harry J studio on Roosevelt Avenue in Kingston on Tuesday, and sat in on the group's jam session. Luvs, reggae in any language, is reggae. But Hjálmar, brings to the music a passion and discipline that is as captivating as their performance. To say the group is good would be the musical understatement of the season, as they are way better than good! In fact, they are so good, they are bad!

Dears, listening to them as they performed/recorded some of their tracks for their next album, one could not help but get immersed in the music. The signature reggae thumping beat, coupled with the fact that, somehow, the group had managed to create a hybrid of the gut and the cerebral, made for a pleasing and satisfying musical journey.

Luvs, we are talking music you can listen to, and perhaps more important, dance to. You could easily find yourself snapping your fingers and singing along, without realising that the lyrics are coming at you in a foreign tongue.

Later release

Slated for release later this year, the album, currently a work in progress, will feature, Cat Coore on cello on three tracks; Dean Fraser and his horn section; Robbie Lyn; with Nickie and Althea providing back-up vocals, and sound engineer being the acclaimed Stephen Stewart. The album will be recorded in parts at the famed Tuff Gong Studios, Harry J's Studio and Gee Jam, in Port Antonio.