(Photo Rafa Marquez)
*Interview published April 2014
Don Fe is UK born musician and producer based in Spain for over 20 years. His riddims and productions are now being played by the world’s most respected sounds – Channel One, Jah Shaka, Aba Shanti, Iration Steppas and many more all over the world. Don Fe also plays in the live band – The Producers, alongside Roberto Sanchez and Prince Jamo and collaborating with Earl 16, Milton Henry and Ricky Grant.
First exposed to reggae as a youngster aged 14, Don Fe had acquired some tapes of Matumbi and Black Slate through a friend of his Dad (little did he know where those few tapes would eventually take him). At that time, he was living in the Wirral in North West of England where there was little or no Caribbean culture. Times were tough back in the 70’s / early 80’s with poor housing, high unemployment and racial tensioneventually driving Britain to breaking point and rioting. Despite the tensions Don Fe ended up attending his first Sound System dance in Toxteth, Liverpool aged 18.
DF:“I went to my first dance in Liverpool which was really tense in those days; not surprisingly so. I can’t remember which sound I saw in Liverpool – all I can remember the tension and instead of a siren they had one of those things you could buy for a car that had like laser shots, 8 bit arcade sounds of bombs falling”
Still young, Don Fe eventually moved away from the North of England and went to Brighton where he took a visit to London and his first Jah Shaka dance. This was a new experience, completely different to the pubs and clubs of the time; virtually no alcohol being consumed, a night made up from just pure vibes and good energy. To say this was inspirational for Don Fe is an understatement – DF:“I can honestly say I had never seen, heard or felt anything like it”. It was around this time that Don Fe began to get seriously involved in roots & culture; he began making reggae music and his life started to follow a new direction with the revelation of Ras Tafari through books he’d been reading and obviously the message from the music he was listening to.
For a small period Don Fe was collaborating with a local sound which led to him taking part in various festivals and local residencies until 1993 until he left to spend some months in Senegal before ending up in Spain.
DF:“In those days there were no soundcards, etc. so whenever I could blag a go on my mates 4 track, I’d knock out a tune. Then my flatmate took me to his friend’s house, where he had a proper home setup, I’d been in studios before recording but had never seen that it was actually possible to record decent quality in your own home. Fostex 8 track, Seck mixing desk, Atari 1040ST and a sound module with a DX7… Awesome!”
When Don Fe finally took up residence in Spain he knew that he had to retrieve his beloved Studio equipment. So, he flew back to the UK and with sheer determination (and a little help from his friends) he made a huge box with wheels, packed up his studio and turned up at the ferry dock. Luckily he came across a friendly forklift driver who gave him a helping hand getting his stuff on the boat … although, that wasn’t the difficult leg of the journey:
DF:“The maddest part was getting it from Santander to Murcia in my girlfriends Peugeot 205 with four of us in it and a roof rack!”
Don Fe has dedicated all of his life to music, but it wasn’t until recent years that he started to get known for producing riddims and musical collaborations. Years were spent working hard busking for a living, which led to establishing and running various rehearsal rooms, studios and co-running a label. It was a life style that ended up with him having no time for his own music and eventually ended with the label and studio running out of money.
Whether it was fate or luck, Don Fe ended up losing all the equipment he had left to make music. However, this turned out to be a new beginning for the Spanish flute master: armed with nothing more than a PC and his passion for music, he dedicated himself to learning to make riddims and digital recording.
When he finally got hold of some equipment again, it was through the Versionist Network that Don Fe began to make contacts with various sound and things began to move forward. Now, his riddims and productions are now being played by the world’s premier sound systems –Channel One, Jah Shaka, Aba Shanti, Iration Steppas to name a few.
Don Fe is a legend in the Spanish Reggae scene, he’s played 100’s of shows and has had countless collaborations. However, when he moved to the South East of Spain in the early 90’s there was no reggae scene at all.
DF:“I had a few vinyl with me and some tapes. I DJ’d a few times around 93 or 94; It did not go down very well, especially after frying one guys speakers!
There was reggae in the peninsula; – Jah Macetas in Valencia (who recorded in Studio One, I think) and a serious movement starting in the North of the peninsula with Iñaki from BDF and people like Roberto Sanchez and Dubby Ambassah. In Barcelona there were Leones Humildes who were starting with their sound and not long after the Basque Sound System movement started – Bilbao now has 4 proper sounds. All of this was going on and I was totally oblivious, living with the bag of tapes I had managed to record from my mates sound, and the few vinyl I took with me”
There is now a serious scene growing in Spain with some great producers including: U-Rie, Raggattack, Santi Mijarra, Echo Reverb and Roberto Sanchez, as well as bands such as: Zamaramandi, Forward Ever, Echo Reverb and The Producers.
DF:“Sound systems are appearing left, right and center! Rototom Sunplash has definitely had something to do with it, but the foundation had been laid by serious years of work by many people all over the Spanish Peninsula – sometimes I think people forget that. With festivals like Organic Roots, Minho Reggae and La Concha Reggae Vibes the scene is definitely firmly rooted and Jah willing the fruits will be reaped slowly but surely by everyone who has worked so hard…
… There are some awesome singers too – Señor Wilson, Yeyo Perez, Irie Souljah, Payoh Soul Rebel and many more. It’s well worth checking out the scene over here and it’s great to see it growing”
Don Fe has some great music on release at the moment including a release on UK Label Operation Records headed by Nick Sasquash. ‘Mount Zion Step’ features the voice of the great Ricky Grant, production & flute by Don Fe, a dub cut mixed by Nick Sasquash & backing vocals from Sis Caro & Ras Bruno (who also mixes ‘Dubbing Flute’).
DF:“I loved the track when I first heard the vocal from Ricky Grant and asked him and Ras Bruno if they’d mind me remixing it. Since then, I’ve spent time with Jah Ricky alongside The Producers, laying down the pre-production for an album – he’s a seriously inspirational man. It’s a true honour and blessing to have spent time alongside him and Milton Henry during last summer”
Don Fe is part of the live band – The Producers, alongside Roberto Sanchez and Prince Jamo and collaborating with Earl 16, Milton Henry and Ricky Grant. Don Fe collaborated on the release ‘Branches and leaves’ produced by Roberto Sanchez, featuring Milton Henry last year. There is also a forthcoming album due out in April with Earl 16 entitled ‘Natty Farming’
The foundations for The Producers were laid when Don Fe met up with Roberto Sanchez at Rototom a few years ago. This led to Don Fe recording some flute for the Milton Henry ‘Branches and leaves’ album. They met up again, this time with Prince Jamo during a dance with Bomb Bass in Bilbao; the guys spent a few days in the studio together and hit it off, connecting on all levels! They recorded no less than 7 tracks that day, then went back and wrote some more for the project Roberto Sanchez had with Earl 16.
When they met up with Earl 16 at La Concha festival, he voiced the tracks for them and by then they realised that what was happening was more than a studio project – and so The Producers was formed.
DF:“Roberto’s sound is incredible. A proper roots man, from his fingers to his soul!”
We can look forward to some live dates featuring The Producers and Ricky Grant this summer and hopefully some with Earl 16 as well as he promoted the promoting the release of his album ‘Natty Farming’.
DF:“With The Producers we’re hoping to soon be able to confirm dates (In Spain) with Ricky Grant and Earl 16 (maybe even one gig with both of them) and then I have some dates with Prince Jamo and Roberto Sanchez as well as some on my own. I’ve got to Give Thanks for all of this happening – things like the support from Channel One and people like Nick Operation and Ben Alpha have really helped me move forwards”
Don Fe is a seriously hard working and talented musician as well as being one on the friendliest people I’ve met. Dubcentral love Don Fe’s productions for their musicality and attention to detail. You can find out about his music by visiting www.donfe.com or you can check any of his releases with Operation Records. Don Fe also has a new release on Steppas Records ‘Jericho / Weep Not’ or you can check out his live project:The Producers. Dubcentral recommends that if you haven’t already, buy some of Don Fe’s production for your record bag and keep up to date with his future projects.