Interview – Q&A w/ Manudigital – Dubbing Reggae in French (October 2020)

Reggae music is Manudigital’s playground. Since his debut, more than 15 years ago, the French songwriter, producer, bass player, DJ and rhythm-maker has fooled around, enjoyed himself and worked with Caribbean-scented upbeats and uptempo vibes, which are better if having a digital nature and electro suffix.

In these years, he has collaborated with some of greatest names in the roots, dub and dancehall scenes (like Babylon Circus, Capleton, Bounty Killer and Machel Montano only to name a few) and performed on the most important stages and festivals, as well as giving life to more than a dozen releases between LPs, EPs and singles, most of them on French influential label X-Ray Production.

Despite its ongoing madness, 2020 will have the pleasure to see and listen to a new piece of Manudigital’s work, an EP titled Dub Trotter, which will be released on the 16th of October. We wanted to know more about the dub trotter’s journeys, so we reached Emmanuel for a Q&A interview about his upcoming EP, his love for reggae and music at large.

Let’s start from the present day. Dub Trotter, your new album, is going to be out in a couple of weeks. How do you feel about releasing new music and a new album in these mad times?

It is true that in this Covid period it’s not easy to make music as, in France and in many other countries, we cannot perform in concert. The situation is very complicated for artists in general, releasing an album in this period is not very simple because, yes indeed I would have liked this for all my other releases of discs, to be able to defend it on stage. Unfortunately, for Dub Trotters a release tour will be very complicated, even impossible. But we have to get out of things anyway and not let ourselves be defeated and I remain positive for the future!

How much has the current situation changed the way you think about, play and listen to music and how do you expect the music world will come out from it?

At the present time I have no idea how the world after this will be and especially on a musical field. I think it’s very difficult to make predictions on that afterwards. I like to believe that things will recover little by little and that we will all be able to resume our normal activities together. During this period of confinement without too much listening to music and not even too much composing, I took the opportunity to take a step back and spend time with my family and enjoy the simple things. I needed to take some time for myself to get better after

Let’s talk about more upbeat things… How would you introduce “Dub Trotter”? When did the project start and is there any particular inspiration?  

On this subject… We’ve also read that each track on the album is named after the place where it was written and composed. How and how much those places influenced the songs?

This project started two years ago, during my last Bass Attack tour I composed a lot of instru on my computer during my trips, whether in hotel rooms, on the terraces of cafes, in transport during the long airport waits, but suddenly came the idea to compile all these songs and, in the end to make an album. That’s why I gave most of the songs the name of the places where they were composed. But this is not an album of « world music » inspired by each country’s culture, I was more inspired by the moment’s energy than by the culture of each country. And it was important for me that this record fits one hundred percent with my artistic vision of the moment.

As it happened in your previous works, “Dub Trotter” can count on many collaborations too. How do you choose/get in touch with the musicians you work with?

Yes of course, a lot of musicians have influenced and directed me and, in a way, have made me get to where I am today. I could name dozens of them but Machel Montano really gave a boost to my international career after inviting me to play at his Trinidad concert alongside big Jamaican names such as Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Johnny Osborne and many others. Finally, this concert was like the concretization of my project « Digital session », these  small videos that I made in Jamaica with legends. There were other artists of course who influenced me too, such as Lieutenant Stitchie, Babylon Circus in France or my very first group of reggae, DJ Harmony. Indeed there were a lot but one thing is sure, I learned new things with each collaboration. I always try to question myself and analyze the how and the why, it is thanks to this that I was able to move forward.

You’re based in Paris, but used to travel all over the world for and with your music. Is there any particular country or city you are passionate about and always look forward to visiting again?

Yes indeed, I travel a lot and there are many cities in the world that I particularly appreciate, including Kingston in Jamaica. As anyone who is influenced by this culture and reggae music, it’s always an amazing adventure to be able to spend a few days in Kingston, because you can meet a lot of legends of this music and even budding future artists. It’s an incredibly productive breeding ground and there is also the socio-cultural aspect which is really incredible. Every trip to Jamaica is a new adventure and through my video, I try to transcribe this energy, this vibration. This is maybe why the videos in Jamaica worked on YouTube, beyond the music there are all the social, cultural aspects that cannot be felt. So, yes, for me Jamaica is of course one of my number one countries.

Going back to your homeplace… What can you tell us about the Paris reggae and dub scene? Is there any local musician/band you would like to suggest for us to listen to?

Of course, in France there are many Dub artists and I am always surprised through my various travels in the world to perceive that there are people who listen to this French music. Whether in South America, in Canada, in Asia, everywhere I meet people who know our Dub French touch culture. But it is true that as French we like to complain and we are never satisfied, so it is not always easy in France to admit that we are very lucky in terms of this culture. I invite you to listen to French artists as Pupajim, Peter Youth Man, Bazil or beat-makers as Panda Dub, OBF and many others. This culture is rich and embodied by some very good artists.

You will release your new album on X-Ray Productions once again, which is quite an influential label in the French music panorama. How do you feel about being part of such an all-star roster of musicians?

I am very lucky to be part of a label which supervises me, surrounds me and supports me in all my projects. Artist life is not that easy especially at the beginning when we have no one around us and you have to do everything by yourself- that’s how I started. It’s a very good school of life but it requires a lot of energy. Today I have the chance to have a team around me that works with me hand in hand, which allows me to spend more time making music than doing administrative work. And it’s true that it’s very reassuring as an artist to be in a label that supervises other artists and it’s quite reassuring to know that we are all together in the same boat to move forward. I really like this energy.

What bands or albums are you listening to these days?

These days I don’t listen to a lot of music, I admit that I spend more time composing and looking for new inspiration. But if I had to name a few artists that I listen to regularly I could tell you about Steel Pulse, Black UhuruIsrael Vibrations, Burning Spear and many more. 

What are your plans for the future?

The French government decided to extend the health emergency which means that we are not allowed to do shows until April 31, 2021. Many of my Summer Tour gigs were canceled, some of them are reported to be happening in June, July and August 2021. But honestly today I don’t even know if all these gigs will take place and no one really knows how it will go. It’s difficult to project yourself into the future. We’ll see…

In a few words … How would you introduce your music to someone who has never listened to it?

I will introduce it by saying that it has a base of Caribbean reggae music but mixing with contemporary electronic music is what makes up the very DNA of my style.


Photo ©: Anna Urik