Reggae is the beat that’s taken Jamaica to other shores, across borders and round about to roar a warm message of one love. It’s what blasts from teetering stacks of speaker boxes on our streets and ceaselessly sets the pace. This tiny island has birthed a lot of legends, a lot of songs your body knew by heart before your mind understood the meaning. But what does it take to break through today? What does it take to not only ride the wave of reggae greats, but to cut a new wake?
It takes six musicians with a message. It takes being the band you want to be, in spite of advice. It takes longtime friends Stephen Newland (lead vocals), Charles Lazarus (lead guitar), Jeffrey Moss-Solomon (rhythm guitar, vocals) and Colin Young (bass), along with the matchless talent of Paul Smith (keyboard) and Leon Campbell (drums), coming together to say this is our way.
When their band Rootz Underground formally formed in 2000, the island’s mind was far from the band’s proper roots reggae style. It was on dancehall, gangsta rap collaborations and pop crossovers. Rootz was told they were long past the 70s and 80s prime, the magic years rife with rootsy bands singing songs of positivity. They were told they could aim to be a backing band, but could never stand on their own. Not like The Wailers, Third World or Burning Spear—that time was done.
So why would a bunch of young guys from the ever-fiery city of Kingston want to go back to the beginning? What the world didn’t know yet, was that Rootz Underground wasn’t too late—they were early. Today, the band has pervasively spread its message of positivity, possibility and sustainability to stages in 25 countries, released what was declared by Playboy magazine to be “best world music album in the world”—and in one of the truest testaments to their name, inspired their fans to replenish the earth and plant over 75,000 trees around the world (“Rootz Releaf”).
“We were never expected to succeed, so we never let up. We didn’t look at where the money was, we just set out to play show after show after show,” says Charles, the charismatic lead guitarist. And true to who they’ve always been, the band is not basking in the fact that their lyrical mastery and infallible talent have proven doubters wrong—but rather is opening doors for now-emerging, finally-relevant roots reggae bands 10 years younger, setting and sharing the stage for a mission that’s never wavered: music to believe in.
The Rootz Underground story is one of persistence, Jamaican to the core, because, as Charles went on, “The blessing of being an artist is to have a voice.” And speak up, speak out and beautifully shout they surely do, keeping conscious reggae relevant, one sung song and one sown root at a time.
Hear the songs, see the band and join the movement at RootzUnderground.com
Photo Credit: Photo by William Richards
Digging Jamaica? Visit the 100m Shop and get your jerk-reggae-patois-sunshine fix. (Sunscreen recommended.)