THE CELLULOID-MELODIE STORY/ CHAPTER ONE
Melodie ( originally as a distributor), and Celluloid, as a label have strongly contributed to the success of musics from France internationally and of many previously unknown musics and artists in France.
This ongoing story deserves telling from the beginning, since the end is not in sight.
The label Celluloid was created in the late seventies as an 'independant' in both the financial and philosophical senses of the word. Independant, it has remained via the distribution structure, Melodie, founded later on to consolidate the early success of this label on the cutting edge of musical developments.
As the French partner of the vague 'Rough Trade' entity, Celluloid was crowned with its first 'Disque d'Or' (100,000 sales in France ); "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell, still a disco hit
twenty years on! This was to be followed by Errol Dunkley's "O.K Fred", a sing-along Reggae tune that haunts the brain and Jacno's " Rectangle" that has inspired each successive generation of 'electronic musiciens'.
Strategically, however, Celluloid was never to be a simple hit-machine but was always interested primarily in the development of artists' careers; from the first feeling that something was happening or about to happen around certain musical styles or artistic tendancies to the development of recordings that expressed the best that an artist or group could bring from themselves in the right conditions. The best example of this is the group Toure Kunda, whose success with Celluloid, and the song 'Em'ma'
has not been equalled since despite the intervention of major companies and large cheques.
This page of the catalogue and the past was turned when Rough Trade went down for having thought that it was becoming as financially powerful as a major company and when Celluloid US ( the division inherited by one of the founders of Celluloid at their parting of ways ) finished in dubious hands...
Celluloid France survived both these upheavals and was still alive and kicking into the 80's, working with the then-emerging Radio Nova on projects as innovative and successful as the combining of Johnny ' Rotten' Lyndon and Afrika Bambaata for the hit ' Timezone' .
Another example of music that found its second home in France before reaching any other part of the world was the sound coming from the oppressed South-African Townships; Ladysmith Black Mambazao, Lucky Dube, Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens were amongst those first presented to European audiences via Gallo Africa and Celluloid/Melodie's creative participation in the massive 'Franchement Zulu' tour. Johnny Clegg himself began his rise to fame largely due to these efforts.
More and more artists joined the roster of successes at this time; Alpha Blondy, Kassav, Youssou N'Dour, Ismael Lô, Mory Kante and Salif Keita were all part of this strong and reciprocal deveopment; bringing artist's careers from shubeens, restaurants and nightclubs to points were their potential was finally recognised by major labels internationally . These signatures left Melodie with a strong back catalogue, often the best work of the artists before attempts to make them 'cross-over' frequently ended in near-fatal concessions to generally misconceived ideas of what would "really make them sell".
When an artist has deserved a more massive promotional back-up and star-system treatment, Celluloid-Melodie has never stood in their way and the example of Cesaria Evora is telling from this point of view. Most record companies faced with sales of less than 2000 units of the first two albums of a artist from a literally unknown archipelago ; ( who could have pointed out the whereabouts of the Cabo Verde islands on a map prior to her success ? ) would not have released her third album, which entitled " Miss Perfumado", is now universally recognised as her best and an exceptional musical creation.
As sales of this album reached over 150,000 units in France, and 10,000 in Spain 20,000 in the USA as imports
some Anglo-Saxon labels muttered about ' French bad taste'; they are still eating their words.
This was the first example of the necessary input of Celluloid-Melodie in the promotional activities of an artist worldwide, coordinated from, but not limited to, Paris as part of a response to the increasing competition in this musical sector. Following this planified approach to building from an underswell of critical acclaim through to popular acceptance was the ' Lambarena' project; music by Bach, orchestrated by Hugues de Courson ( ex-Malicorne) and Pierre Akendengue, ( an extraordinarily gifted bard from Guinee ) for an African choir ! Ahead of its time in the mixing of Classical and Popular musics this release had an enormous impact before being mistreated by Sony's blind application of their blueprint for marketing.
As we reach into the nineties, we can feel the impact of one element of Celluloid-Melodie's personality; its faithfulness to its old flames, even those who had been tempted meantimes elsewhere; the recent release of albums by Sapho or Jacno being proof of these reciprocal good relations in a family-type environment, with all that implies in terms of occasional jealousy or tantrums.
As we write, we continue to support our artists in every way possible, and some impossible, Bevinda is being asked to sing a typical Korean folk song in Portugese ( good luck to the translator) for inclusion as a bonus track in the release in France of her 'Alegria' album; Juan Carlos Caceres has been given a hero's welcome on his return to his native Argentina despite insisting on proving to them the African slave origins of Tango, Barbara Luna has taken all the Womad festivals by storm and will be rocking the London Spitz on Nov 26th, Djeli Moussa Diawara is once again asking us to find a way to add some additional strings to his Kora, Herminia an old lady from the Cabo Verde islands ( again ?!) has released her first album and is surprising huge crowds at festivals in Italy and Spain by not being Cesaria Evora #2 but by singing wonderfully sad ballads orchestrated by Vasco Martins, a musical genius whose talents rage from New Age mystical sounds to contemporary Classical composition via maestro guitar musicianship,( as shown on his album 'DOS' with Cesaria's first and in our opinion best guitarist, Voginha ).
We could go on for ever in extolling the virtues of the artists who play good music, are wicked live and are linked to us historically or just recently; like ex-Gong member Didier Malherbe with his new group including Loy Ehrlich and Steve Shehan, Juan Cedron founder of the Cuarteto Cedron and his new Tipica Orchestra, yet another ex-Malicorne member Gabriel Yacoub, Silvia Torres, a very successful samba artist from Salvador de Bahia, who deliberately focuses on the other musical traditions of the Bresilian Nord-Este, the wonderful voices of Martin Destree or Nawal, singing praises beyond religious barriers, Maalesh the 'Cat Stevens of the Comores Islands' (what more unknown islands... ) but, what with being cheerfully busy (not always easy !), paying musical dues, following intuitions and not letting them drop at the first set-back, we really haven't got much time to blow our own horn. Yet, occasionally it does help us in our work to be recognised in our rôle in the musical history of the past twenty years; as we also feel confident about our intention to be part of the creation of the musical history of the future.