United Flavour: Prague's musical melting pot
United Flavour is a motley group of musicians formed in Prague in 2004. The band consists of seven members: lead singer Carmen, who is from Spain, founder and producer Djei from Ivory Coast, three native Czechs: Jaro, Standa, and Velocity, as well as Split, who is Slovak, and Bill from the US.
The music of United Flavour combines several diverse musical styles, including reggae, latino, flamenco, soul, hiphop, r’n’b and dancehall. The band’s songs are mainly in English and Spanish, but Carmen believes that this does not stop the local Czech audience from listening.
“People are really open here to different cultures and different languages. They are, like, really interested not only in English but in other languages as well. So although maybe Spanish is not a language that many people can understand, they still like it. I’m also lucky that the Spanish language is very rhythmical. Even if you don’t understand what the lyrics are about, the rhythm and the music go together nicely so people enjoy it. It’s like anywhere: sometimes you go and listen to music in other countries and you don’t know what the lyrics are about, but you like the music.”
Djei was born in Ivory Coast, raised in Paris and is now settled in Prague, producing United Flavour’s albums and sometimes lending his own voice to the songs. Although fast-paced tunes played in clubs are always popular, he believes that music should have a more soothing, personal connection.
“Music is definitely a spiritual thing, and it has to stay spiritual. Although we play it in clubs and in our kitchens, you know, we use it to send some nice messages: how much we love our girlfriends. Music is still a spiritual thing, and reggae more than any other music is definitely a religious and a spiritual thing.”
Despite the language barrier, the group sees music as a medium for voicing opinions, and the lyrical messages in their songs do address important themes in society. Djei continues.
“Peace, love, unity. These are all universal values, universal values and principles that we will always sing about. These are the things that matter in time and last in time. I think it’s also important, though, to sing about social things. How men should be nicer to the ladies, and how ladies should also be nicer to the men. How the media should stop promoting certain negative images of other people on behalf of one race or the other. You know, this is stuff that I think we, as artists, have to make sure that we speak about.”
Carmen echoes this sentiment.
“We have some songs with more deep lyrics, like I don’t know, a bit of a critique of the system. For instance, we had a big hit from our first album, Revolution. Which is not a violent revolution; revolution we meant more in the meaning like change to make it better, in a positive way, not violence. We are not violent people, we are against violence. So we meant revolution more as a change for the better.”
The group’s conscious effort to include a mix of several different musical styles from around the world also conveys a message of unity, as their first album is titled. For Djei and Carmen, who come from diverse backgrounds, this is a natural process. Although in the Czech Republic rock music is considered mainstream, United Flavour’s goal is to bring reggae, soul and hip hop music to a level where it is accepted as rock is. Djei elaborates.
“The most important thing as an artist is to stay true to your environment. We try to take so many different musical styles and put them together as one. The reason why we are doing this is because we grew up in a multicultural society. I grew up with reggae as well as with hip-hop, and African music, Carmen did the same thing with flamenco and many other styles, so it’s pretty natural as an artist to use all these influences that you grew up with and put them into one bag. You know, we are all a mix of a lot of things, and artists should really take this plus and express that, also in their music.”
The band’s songs include different musical styles and rhythms, and depending on the song have a slower or faster pace. Yet all of these songs are combined onto the band’s album “Unity,” and the themes of unity and concord are indeed a part of everything the band does. Lead singer Carmen again.
“We are a group of people, which, we are from different countries. And, when we are onstage, we are really united. The same when we rehearse, same when we work together. So, also another message we show and we try to say is that people from different cultures, and countries, and religions can get together, and make nice things together without having to argue, you know or fight, or use violence just because you are from different cultures. If it’s possible in music, it’s possible in all fields.”
Although the band prides itself on its multicultural dimension, the two stress the values of reggae music in particular. Djei says that reggae’s messages of peace and love are universal themes that should transcend all cultures.
“Reggae is, as far as I know, a spiritual-based music. The message was and, I think, always will stay spiritual. Even if you have a different aspect of reggae music, dancehall and all of that, which speak about clubbish things, the main core of reggae is spiritual and I think that’s what people like about it.”
Carmen reiterates United Colour’s interest in the uplifting.
“It’s not only like a reggae message, but I think that it’s a very positive message that it can touch anyone. And it’s all about like love, unity, like positive things, so I think that that helps everyone- I mean, you don’t have to be a Rasta man, but if you like the message so I guess that that’s why also. And the music is really nice music, so I think that all the combination together, lyrics, message and music is maybe making it a bit bigger than it used to be before.”