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Get To Know:Portuguese multi-platinum R&B superstar, Richie Campbell

by HQ

In the mid 2000s, Lisbon had a thriving, underground reggae and dancehall scene, one which Richie would grow up around. It soon became his whole life.

“When I started going out at fourteen or fifteen, reggae was so big in Portugal and I was just hanging out with Rastas and people involved in sound system culture. Very quickly, I wasn’t listening to any other type of music from any other country. For many years, my only connection to music was Jamaican music.”

Richie says he also learned a lot about African culture through his love of music. “I learnt about African history through reggae – stuff I didn’t learn in school. I feel like reggae taught me a lot in terms of how to be a good person. If you grew up on reggae, you kind of feel like you have a responsibility to adhere to some of the principles.”

Some of his earliest influences sonically were “Jacob Miller, Dennis Brown, Bob Marley and Garnett Silk.” Silk in particular, was one of his earliest biggest inspirations: “Silk is one of the most unique voices I’ve ever heard. [He] passed away early on in his career. There was a feeling at the time that he might have been the next Bob Marley.”

Richie rose to prominence as a champion of Jamaican music and culture in Portugal. He became a figurehead of the scene. From 2011 onwards, he would see massive success, selling out the historic Campo Pequeno Bullring as an unsigned artist, embarking on a nationwide tour and see nominations for 2 MTV Europe Music Awards.

But he’s always faced a level of criticism – however unwarranted – due to his being a poster boy for a sound he isn’t native to. In the music industry, there is often the idea that an artist shouldn’t appropriate the sound of another culture for commercial gain (and rightly so). You shouldn’t be a “culture vulture”, so to speak. But for Richie, this was never his intention. “I’ve always had this conflict with my fascination with Jamaican culture. When I was growing up, people used to tell me: ‘You sing reggae, you need to grow dreads,’ but I’m not a Rasta, I’m not Jamaican, I just love the music! I don’t want to pretend that I’m something I’m not; it’s just that I love the music,” he argues.

He continues, “immediately I was the poster boy of reggae, with news titles saying ‘the most Jamaican Portuguese man’.” But he’s always paid homage to the genre and the artists that inspired him, hoping his fans might dive deeper into reggae and dancehall. Richie smiles, “I’ve always tried to show people what my references were; I made sure after I toured with Anthony B, I brought him to Portugal to tour with me. My whole purpose was to make Portuguese people love Jamaican music like I did.” There is a genuine love for the genre, as he is deeply entrenched within the community, growing up around it. There’s an authenticity surrounding him that doesn’t resonate with other artists guilty of appropriation.

But all artists evolve, and in 2017, Richie released his Lisboa project – a marked shift from his traditional reggae sound, instead incorporating more dancehall and R&B. “I had already stopped listening to reggae as much and was listening to much more dancehall and R&B. I’d come to the conclusion that reggae wasn’t a good representation of what I was personally. I feel like many artists start by emulating artists that they want to be, and then you find your personality and originality along the way. People gravitated towards my music after that album, Lisboa. It was the single greatest decision I ever made in my career.”

Today, Richie is more in tune with the business side of the music industry. His record label, Bridgetown, represents some of Portugal’s rising stars. It’s akin to “Portmore Empire from Jamaica, which was Vybz Kartel’s label, Drake’s OVO, Skepta’s Boy Better Know”, etc. His goal is to be a home to the alternative style of music in Portugal that the mainstream press won’t cover. Bridgetown even represents comedians.

Richie continues to dominate the Portuguese scene, selling out the historic Altice Arena (which seats 17,000) – “It was the greatest day of my life! It was very important for me personally, and the industry because Altice Arena used to be reserved for a specific type of traditional Portuguese artist, so selling it out shows other artists of a similar genre of music that it’s possible for them too!”

His new album, ‘Heartbreak & Other Stories’ is out now.

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