Sergent Garcia burst onto the French music scene in the late 1990s with a searing blend of Jamaican reggae and dancehall with Latin grooves that he dubbed “salsamuffin.” A veteran of French punk and indie rock, Sergent Garcia has explored his Spanish roots and passion for Caribbean and Latin music to create a popular sound that earned him fans across the globe and sales of hundreds of thousands of albums. Bruno Garcia, alias Sergent Garcia, was born in 1964, the year of the dragon according the Chinese zodiac, in a small mountain town in France near the Swiss border. The son of a Basque Spanish father and a French mother, and with family connections to Algeria and the Ivory Coast, Bruno’s early years took him to live in Bilbao, Spain before his family settled in Paris when he was five years old. Bruno recalls, “It was like a hybrid family with many colors. I spent a lot of time with my little cousin, whose father from was from the Ivory Coast. Their household had a very African flavor: there were always people coming from Africa to visit for weeks on end. They were always listening to African music, to soul music, American music, it exposed me to a lot of different things.”
While no one in his family played an instrument, music was an important part of Bruno’s childhood and his family had an eclectic and diverse record collection that included African, Latin and Caribbean music, not to mention French and Spanish sounds. At the age of 14, Bruno started playing around on a friend’s guitar, later joining this friend’s rock band as a bass player. “I used to say that
I played with the best musicians in the world because I learned with records.” Bruno points out, “I learned with Bob Marley, Joe Strummer, Bob Dylan, I learned with a lot of people I liked, I was just copying their styles in the beginning, you know, when I was a kid. From hard rock, Bruno moved on to punk, listening to bands such as The Clash, The Stranglers, The Ramones and others.
At the same time, Bruno remained a devoted reggae fan and he especially gravitated toward bands that blended punk, reggae and ska. When he was eighteen years old Bruno moved to Barcelona for a year and a half where he experienced the energy of an emerging country. “It was not the Europe we know now, all the same territory. For Europeans, Spain was basically Africa. There was really a
lot of freedom, you know, the end of the dictatorship. Spain was breathing, and taking in a lot of air. They had a hunger for everything, for rock, for art, for sex, for drugs for everything. It was a very crazy time!” Bruno moved back to Paris in 1984 to start a band called Ludwig von 88. The band went on to become one of the most popular groups on the French alternative rock and punk scenes, recording over ten albums and performing together for thirteen years. “It was the years of the alternative rock movement,” notes Bruno. “In France it became a very big movement, because there were a lot of bands generating a big audience. These were new things, the heritage of the global punk and alternative rock movement. And then into that punk movement there were also a lot of political things added, and mixed into these political things was a lot of reggae music. The reggae movement, the hip-hop movement; all these things came together in Paris.” By the nineties, the French reggae, hip hop, Arabic and Latin music scenes had started to coalesce into a powerful hybrid music or “musiques metisses” movement. Bruno started a side project of DJing with a Jamaican-style sound system. It was at this time that he started using the stage name Sergent Garcia. The name was inspired by a character from the Zorro television series that was popular when Bruno was a child. The fat, awkward and drunken Sergent Garcia was Zorro’s bumbling nemesis, and Bruno was often taunted with this nickname in the schoolyard. But Bruno started to like the idea of taking on the name of the anti-hero. “If everyone wants to be Zorro,” explains Bruno, “I will be Sergent Garcia. I think he’s the real man of the people, not Zorro. Zorro is just an aristocratic landlord.”
Ever since he had come back from Barcelona years earlier Bruno had tried to remain connected with his Latin roots. “I wanted to stay in touch with the Latin community and Spanish language so I was listening to Latin radio, and I began to go the Latin fiestas. I went to see the Cuban band Los Van Van at the New Morning in Paris, it’s a big jazz club, and it totally blew my mind. I had never
seen such a big band on stage. It made a huge impression on me. I started to listen to Latin music with another ear, with an eye in my ear,” jokes Bruno. As he began making the transformation into Sergent Garcia, Bruno started investigating other Latin music styles, from Colombian cumbia to Puerto Rican bomba and plena, and of course the fundamentals of Cuban music. Bruno finally got to visit Cuba for the first time in 1998, and he immediately found something he had been searching for his entire life. “When I was in France, I needed more Latin flavor and when I was in Spain I needed more hybrid culture. When I got to Latin America, this was exactly what I was