One could easily stay for hours listening to Ce Ce Rogers. Not only because he’s got one of the most beautiful voices in the House scene. But first and foremost because he’s a brilliant author. Delivering parts of a History which is ours, whatever our differences may be. One used to say about James Brown that he is a Soul man. He’s definitely not the only one!
The world can be so small at times… I’ll never forget that trip to Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. A city where I’d been booked as a DJ alongside Caron Wheeler and her band on Dec.31 2002. This for the grand opening of the very first club over there. We arrived at destination on a freezin’ early morning. We then would have a breakfast while our passports were getting visaed. Ce Ce , who was singing at some different location that same night, happened to be on the same flight. This being just how we met, 3 years after a chat we had when he was Italian band Jestofunk‘s vocalist…
“I was studying music in Berkeley. I was playing piano and singing old standards from Sam Cooke before going to NYC. There, I’ve founded a small band – Ce Ce & Co – along with my sister and Sybil. She signed a record deal with Next Plateau and I did the same with Atlantic”, he recalls. “That happened at some club in New Jersey. There were 2 artist line ups. The first on a R&B/Jazz tip and the second on the House one. I was checking out my equipment and heating my voice when Marshall Jefferson came in. He’d heard my voice and we recorded ‘Someday’ a few days later in Chicago. Atlantic eventually released it the same day as Ten City‘s ‘Devotion’.”
Ce Ce Rogers didn’t happen to find himself in the same situation as his pairs though. Putting an end to his liaison with Atlantic before the major companies came one to break their record deals with them by 1994. “I’ve released two albums on Atlantic before deciding to come back to my former activities where I was less exposed. I’ve written for the cinema and done choruses for David Morales and George Morel. I didn’t feel like I wanted to release another album though. Besides, I didn’t feel like wanting anymore to be at the center stage.
I have also worked with Sounds Of Blackness and I’ve done some production work for Aretha Franlin and C&C Music Factory. Then Jestofunk called me with the right arguments I suppose…”
I could’t help myself asking him about Michael Watford who also had a record deal with Atlantic… “He arrived by the time I was leaving. We also happened to be neighbours and himself too was a regular of this club where Marshall and I had met. I guess he has carefully observed me while I was singing.”
Talking about him or people like the late Sabrynaah Pope, Adeva, Sybil or Blaze would be the opportunity to evoke this New Jersey family / sound which has been for so much in the beauty of House Music…
“You might also add Marshall Jefferson and Ten City although they’re hailing from Chicago. On top of it, going back to the 87/88 period makes you realize how both Chicago and New Jersey sounds were close to each other. Another exemple is Kym Mazelle. That movement had such a big potential at the time, and I wish there will be a renewal one day…”. Even though he remains quite realistic about the current situation.
“House Music has lost a lot of its essence over the years. Simply because it has become an instant sensation kind of thing as opposed to being operated on a long term basis.
I think that DJ’s have a big responsability on this. Back in the day, they would play songs as opposed to play tracks nowadays. Myself, I refuse to play that game although it’s quite easy. I mean, you sit back at the console, you get a chord line, then you add a vocal dub to it. This has killed the industry as the necessary artist development process has been left aside!
What’s in the charts today we could find related to this period? I mean House Music was starting to find some place on the Billboard charts and we eventually thought about giving Grammies to its artists. Then we would get the UK wave with people like D-Influence, Lisa Stansfield or the Pasadenas whom we’ve got the chance to produce/remix. Nu Colours and others. Then, all of a sudden, nothing left! People started then to dub Martha Wash or Jocelyn Brown’s voices which was nothing but the illustration of a lack of creativity. And it’s even bigger today with the evolution of the technology!”
We would then evoke Ce Ce Rogers‘s connection with Italian memorable 90’s Acid Jazz band Jestofunk. A partnership which resulted in gems such as ‘Can We Live’, ‘Say It Again’, ‘The Ghetto’, ‘Be A Warrior’ and ‘Why’ to name but a few… “Like I said, Claudio Moz-Art Rispoli called me and convinced me to join. I have always written lyrics. As a matter of fact, ‘Can We Live’ was a sort of response to ‘Someday’. I’ve always searched for positivity while writing, with ‘Be A Warrior’ being another example. I’m very attached to the latter as, as we started working on it, Maurizio Simone (a saxophonist) was still alive. He sadly committed suicide in the meantime. Maurizio was not only a talented musician, he’s also one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met.”
Ce Ce Rogers would eventually talk about the heavy Rock guitar driven ‘Why’… “Why? How have we managed to remain that violent after all these years? As a father, knowing that my 15 y.o. son back then had already seen guns in the streets made me mad. And it’s not even the fact of living in an urban environment. It’s all this sh… around! Drugs, violence, murders as a daily environment in America.” Which led us to the obvious influence of our respective immediate surroundings…
“The Afro-American culture has been the subject of so much misunderstanding since a millennium. This doesn’t only apply to the U.S. though, but almost everywhere in the world. This being the reason why our music is so emotive and full of consciousness. You eventually would find nothing but the history of our lives and sufferings. We’ve never been allowed to express ourselves differently. And we’re far from being the only ones in that situation.
I am who I am because I’ve received an education. And it’s by the grace of God that I’ve followed that direction…”
Ce Ce Rogers (Atlantic)
Ce Ce Rogers – Never Give Up (Atlantic)
Jestofunk feat CeCe Rogers – Love In A Black Dimension (Irma)
Jestofunk feat. Ce Ce Rogers – Love In A Gold Dimension (Irma)
Jestofunk feat. Ce Ce Rogers – Universal Mother / with Jestofunk (Irma)
Interview: Ce Ce Rogers