Obituary

France's favourite uncle of reggae, Tonton David, dies age 53

French singer Tonton David poses for pictures at the Olympia concert hall in Paris, ahead of the 14th edition of the Victoires de la Musique award ceremony, February 20, 1999 .
French singer Tonton David poses for pictures at the Olympia concert hall in Paris, ahead of the 14th edition of the Victoires de la Musique award ceremony, February 20, 1999 . © PIERRE VERDY/AFP

Tonton David, a key figure in the growth of reggae and raggamuffin in France in the 1990s, has died in Metz aged 53. Hit songs like Chacun sa route (Everyone has their own way) marked a generation of disenchanted youth.

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Born David Grammont in 1967 on the French overseas island of Réunion, Tonton David (Uncle David) discovered raggamuffin and dancehall alongside the Jamaican community in London in 1987.

He was a pioneer of the genre in France and had his first reggae hit with the song Peuples du monde (People of the world) in 1990.

It featured on the mythic French rap compilation Rapattitude and on his own Le Blues des Racailles (The scum's blues). The album explored social issues like poverty, racism, unemployment and helped make him a leading light for a generation of disenchanted French youth.

The song Peuples du monde celebrated his African roots: “From a people who suffered a lot / We are from a people who no longer want to suffer”, he sang. It also appealed for unity between all races and skin colours. The accompanying video was directed by French filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz.

Tonton David's biggest hit Chacun sa route (Everyone has their own way), rose to third place in the charts in 1994 and was used in the soundtrack for the French film Un indien dans la ville (An Indian in the city). It earned him a nomination for a Victoires de la musique (French Grammy award).

Other hits were more outspoken: Sûr et certain (Sure and certain) denounced police violence, Il marche seul (He walks alone) explored the growing problem of homelessness in France.

With his dreadlocks and ready smile, Tonton David remained a popular figure in France as one of the singer-songwriters who did most to bring reggae to a wider public.

Many artists and public figures have paid tributes on social media. “RIP Tonton David, the Scum's blues, People of the world was all my youth", posted actor Omar Sy.

Pierpoljak, another reggae voice in France, filmed himself on Instagram, visibly moved:  “Wow, I’m devastated, I just learned that my friend Tonton David is dead”. Princess Erika tweeted their duo Est-ce qu'il y a quelqu'un? (Is there anyone?)

Tonton David recorded nine albums in his two-decade career, the last one in 2009. He continued to perform regularly in small venues, far from the Paris star system and was in the process of recording another record. According to family members, he died of a stroke.

 

 

 

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