Hector Roots Lewis ADD

Talking to D'Rootsman - Interview with Hector Roots Lewis

11/15/2022 by Gardy Stein

Talking to D'Rootsman - Interview with Hector Roots Lewis

Dream big! What is used as a mere catch phrase by motivational speakers becomes a challenging motto when applied to real-life situations. Yes, there might be difficulties and hardships on the way, and it needs personal discipline and constant motivation to keep going, but the joy and satisfaction of "making it" and fulfilling your goals is probably the most rewarding experience in life.

One who has never given up and succeeded to make his dreams turn reality is Hector "Roots" Lewis. Son of the late singer Barbara Jones, music played a big role in his life, of course, and he is known to most as a talented percussionist who has performed with many Jamaican artists all over the world. Just recently, he decided to use the most personal instrument there is – the voice – to express what has been simmering inside of him all this time. Obviously, the timing was right: not only did he connect the dots to start working on his just released debut EP D'Rootsman during lockdown, he was also called on to substitute for Tribal Seeds' lead singer during their summer tour, gaining exposure and hands-on experience.

Read on to find out what this adventure was like, to get a "behind the scenes" glimpse of the production of his EP and to dive into some deep philosophical reasoning about the ongoing debate on who "owns" Reggae music, all of which he shares in his first ever Reggaeville interview:

Greetings Hector! Tell us a bit about your childhood first… when did the idea of becoming a musician come up?

Well, music, it started from a tender age. My mother, is Barbara Jones, she is a Lovers Rock singer of the '70s. She is not only a world-renowned singer, but also a gift to this world, and she always made us know that we had the gift of music inside. She was always singing in the house, always singing with my older siblings, so I was the younger one who would see that. Also, she would encourage us to share our talents of music in everything, for example, competitions, church and school activities, we were very involved in that. After a while, music started to become like one of those things that I was just doing, almost like a job, so by the time I finished Highschool, I wanted to go to an Arts College, and so I did enroll into Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts, that's where everything started for me.

What classes did you take there, what was your main subject?

Drums was my principal instrument, and vocals was my second instrument, and I was taking electives on the side, like performance classes. I was doing an education/ teaching degree, but I really wanted to perform. I just made that choice because my father at the time didn't want to send me just to do entertainment, so I was like, 'Well, I could do education and entertainment, which is edutainment!' you know (laughs).

From your time in College, how did you get to the point to really perform and be on stage with other artists, to be on tour with the likes of Kabaka, Chronixx, Protoje… how did that happen?

I was very blessed to be in a time where the local scene was very active while I was going to college. A lot of live shows were going on, Dubwise, Junkanoo Lounge, Raging Fyah used to keep Wickie Wackie… we were all over the place, so we would see each other on the scene. You would see a young Kabaka, a young Jesse Royal, a young Protoje, a young ChronixxChronixx and I have passed each other in those times, seen each other at different places, and he was always like: "I rate how you play percussions, yo, you tuff!". Then there was one show I had after coming off a tour with another artist, where I had to rehearse with him, and he saw me and said, "Yo Hector, you're here! Me rate you, my brother, if I was to ever start a band, I would link you!" and I say "Yeah alright, cool!" at the time not knowing what was about to happen. So, from that everybody kinda know Hector the percussionist, but then now, during the time like 2013, when Chronixx came out to the world with his music and everything, I didn't come on the first European tour. As a matter of fact, the year before, he saw me and was telling me him want me to join him band, and he told me that he's building the band right now and that he will give me a call. During that time I got robbed of my two phones, and you can imagine I missed out on that call, so come the new year, I got a new phone and I start to reach out, I got in contact with people, but unfortunately, I couldn't make the trip at that time. Anyways, I saw him again in May when I was still on the local scene doing a gig with Kelissa, she played at Kingston Live, and after we do the show now, Chronixx sees me before I leave, and I hail him up and him say, "Don't move yet, me have rehearsal Tuesday, me want you fi come forward, mi need you fi join the band now, mi want you fi sing and play!" That's how that started, and as soon as you turn around, I was on the road with him, singing and playing, that was how that whole journey started.

From being there with Chronixx on tour as a percussionist, when did you think about picking up the mic and using your voice as well, as a vocalist?

I feel like it's the experience of being on the road with the different artists, but especially with Jamar (Chronixx), because I have toured extensively with him. We have started to do things in the set where I would get certain vocal freedoms, and I think watching him perform, using different styles and ting, I started to get a likkle bit of that feel, and some of the times I would accentuate those styles with my voice. I felt that this is something nice, something I could do, the vocal performance feels good! And, I mean, having a mother who did it started to even make more sense to say that, 'Well, I have a legacy in that, to sing and be a songwriter, even though I started out as an instrumentalist.', so that's when everything kind of made sense. Also, Jamar encouraged us somewhere around 2018 to write our own music, everybody in the band, he said he wanted to keep a jam session either a day before our show on tour or a day after, and in that jam session it wouldn't be about him, it would be about us and showcasing our music… I had started to dibble and dabble, and by the time it came around, everyone was prepared, but I guess I was most prepared on a level to like… deliver a song song with lyrics and all, so that pushed me even more. At the jam session they were like, "Yo, this is really your show, you know Hector!" cause I had some songs I was working on, all a dat kinda made everything make sense, you know what I mean, I decided, 'Yes, I can be a songwriter and pick up the mic!'

From starting out like that, how did you link up with Tribal Seeds?

I feel like this link-up is one that you'd call a story of alignment. You know, just in the same time when I wanted to launch my career last year on a professional level as a song writer and performer, I believe they've seen that type of activity. They've also expressed that they were fans before, but seeing this step and also seeing some other content that I would post, I feel like the alignment between starting a career and dem having that open opportunity kinda matched perfeclty, that's basically how that went. They are some really really cool people, one of the best bands in the scene over there, they actually have Mexican culture and Cuban culture, something we have in common, culture, you see. So, the alignment was well put together in that way, it's all about the Roots, that's how it went, and the experience is good. They love Jamaica and they love where the music comes from! Especially, I wanna tell you, all the bands in that scene, they love where the music come from and they wanna try to find a way to bridge and connect with Jamaica in terms of giving back to that, and I hope in the future something like that can really manifest. They love the thing!

Have you ever met them before?

No! Actually not. The Cali Roots scene is a scene that I have always heard about, but it afforded me a lot of great things, to meet a lot of great bands that been doing it for a while. Actually, dem have history with Reggae music, Gardy, like… some of these bands started from Highschool, going to Nyabinghi sessions with Ras Michael in California and stuff like that, you know what I mean, and dem developed their musicianship around that cultural thing, and dem chose Reggae music. And it works! To be honest, if you check it, everyone that do Reggae in the world, since Bob Marley make it this global phenomenon, it's just one common goal: to spread love. Check all music from every area, it's just one thing, and I come to see that, and I love that, and if anything, I want to be a bridge to that! When I rise to prominence, I'll do something that can bridge music from Brazil, from America, there is so much bands I learn about, Brazil have some wicked Reggae bands, Europe! Europe have some wicked Reggae bands, too, some other places that me never know about, so I see that one common goal. It's a consciousness! If one generation in one country never take it, the next one will take it. It's just what it is, these people study it, like I said, it's from Highschool for a lot of them, a lot of them know the records, the producers, so yeah man, Reggae from anywhere, it's one Reggae, that's my thing. Straight!

Tell us a bit about the live experience this summer, how was it to play on that big festival, on stage with Tribal Seeds?

It was great! I mean, it was really great to finally try something that I had always seen in my head, and knowing deep inside what the impact would be, when you perform, you know. It was great, the people were great, to work with SOJA, Dirty Heads, Slightly Stoopid, all these bands that have made music and made a business from it, done well for themselves, yeah man! Trust me, I had my Bob Marley moments, cause let me tell you, every artist from Jamaica have a Dennis Brown or Bob Marley or Sizzla moment because… you watch these things from you young, you dream it, it's like you live in it. It was great man, I lived it, you know, the experience was a lived one. And one of the highlights was… they have a thing they call Rodeo, which we have it too in Jamaica, where you bring up artists and ting, so I was very much surprised cause through I was new on the scene I didn't know if a man would want to bring me up in him good headline 90 minutes set that he probably rehearsed, but them brought me up and that was great. I did my thing with Slightly Stoopid, this helped build my career, like doing Sugar Shack, all these different Westcoast Reggae audience type of shows, it really put me on a different level, and I'm happy to be sharing my music like this… and I can't wait to come to Europe! I haffi come de so, too!

Yeah Man! Will you be recording with Tribal Seeds as well?

Yes, we did a song, actually, to kind of cement this mutual feeling, the friendship and the brotherhood of music, because even if it's a work situation, you never want it to be too hard and fast. Like, these are people of culture and people who have heart, too, dem heart clean and dem deal with you clean, pon a level, so we did a song called Dusk Till Dawn. The lead singer [Steven Rene Jacobo] sung his verse and I actually recorded my verse during tour with them in the back of the tour bus, I did my part and put it out, it's been getting good feedback so far.

Tribal Seeds did a song called Irie Up, on the Ganjaville Riddim… was that part of the setlist at some point?

Yeah, actually, that song, since it didn't come out in the summer, it wasn't on the summer tour playlist. But we had additional shows in September and October, and we played the Irie Up right away, so I had to learn that song, too. It nice! One of the other highlights was, during the whole summer tour it wasn't only Tribal Seeds music that I was singing, a part of it was for me to sing some of my music too, so I got a chance to sing Ups And Downs and Let's Groove basically for the whole summer and additional shows, right, they wanted that, because they want to help me to build my career, that was one of the things they said to me. Clean people, man!

That's a perfect transition to your EP D'Rootsman, which we will talk about now in some detail. When did you decide to start working on it?

That came up during the pandemic. As you know, a whole heap a music was born in that time. Again another story of alignment, that's when I meet up with J.L.L., who became the executive producer of the whole project. Back then, he gave me some riddims, he was the first one to send me some riddims, and I wrote on all of them. Then we listened to all of the songs and we only heard two that kinda have a more solid strength, so we pick those and then I was telling him that I want to work with Natural High, and they also sent me a bunch of riddims. I wrote on like five a dem, and we pick some, I picked three and in the end we took two. Also, one of my close bredrin which is the drummer for Protoje, KongzDrumatic is his brand name, he reached out to me to do a song, and we actually co-wrote that song, and hearing it come together we were like, "This song could be a strong song!" So anyway, looking at the music we have and reasoning with J.L.L., I say: "Yo, JLL this look like a project!" And after that, it was like mid pandemic them times, we decided to do it. Also, one of the other executive producers is Barnz, my manager. He got the studio times booked and stuff like that to get musicians to the studio, so it all worked out.

How can we imagine the songwriting process? I mean, you wrote all of the songs yourself…

Except one! Let's Groove was line for line type of thing, it was co-written with Kongz. The others, yes. Good Connection, I had the lyrics before, but only the first verse, as for the others, the music told me what to write. King Said has that nostalgic, ancient type of feel, it's how I wrote it. Same thing for Let's Groove, it has a more Rub-A-Dub vibe, reminds me of Beres Hammond. Ups And Downs, this is my way of communicating to the streets, because I grew up more in contemporary music, R'n'B and Soul music around my mother. I only found Reggae when I was 20, 21… I mean, my mother is a Reggae singer, yes, but it's just life and how life come sometimes, the things your parents do… (laughs).

In the video of Ups And Downs, you not only sing but you dance as well. Also, there are some cameos, I see Kelissa and Chronixx, but there are some others too. Can you tell us who and who is in the video?

J.L.L. was in the video, the producer, and some of my artist friends were there as well, Courtni Jackson, Ken Ellis, my bredrin call Lucien Leach, who is another artist from Jamaica, and I think that was about it, and myself. And the behind scenes crew now, Cesar from Alt Studios, it was a whole team, and Alex Chin, creative director. That's who made up the video, very important to the process! They made it all work.

Then we have a video for Let's Groove as well, which is my favorite track from the EP. Did you shoot that in Kingston Dub Club?

Yeah man! We talk to Gabre, Gabre is also a bredrin who encouraged me from long time, coming through my different stages of music, and so we link up cause we thought that space would give the vibe and help the story line come out more and give a different extension to the song. So, we did Dub Club, and right now Dub Club is up and vibrant more than ever in Jamaica. I'm not there right now, but I see posters every week, so Dub Club, it's the vibe man, that's what we wanted to bring across.

Are there any restrictions still for events in JA?

No, no restrictions when it comes to the events that is like local events. I don't know how it goes for putting up a really big show, but I know Buju Banton is putting up one for the new year, so it must be possible…  

For the Nuh Better Than Yard challenge you did, how many videos did you get altogether?

Well, my team would have the proper total, but because we were more looking for the quality, we picked a top ten kind of thing which we posted on story and timeline. We appreciate the reaction we got, people talking about the thing in a conscious way, and to be creative! A lot of people started to sing the harmonies with me… the way it set up is, let me sing the hook and then start your verse, but a lot of people got creative and musical which is what I love… it was well aligned, it was a Hector thing, it was a Rootsman vibe… it was nice! I'm happy about it.

Did that give you ideas for possible future features?

To be honest, yes! Like, yes! We saw that some of these were actually good! I mean, nothing set in stone, but me love how the females represent, definitely, I have to say, the females represented well on this challenge, it could be well any of them if a collab would ever come out. Any one of the girls! The gyal dem shat, me tell you!

Yes, I really liked Vanessa Bongo's version!

Yeah man, she killed it! (laughs)

What are the next steps, do you plan any promotional events?

Solo-wise, we keep making music, so we are still working on some collabs from the Cali Roots side coming in, we just keep evolving right now. The EP is out and we keep pushing it, keep learning, you know, we are working on other things... Tribal Seeds was one of the highlights of this year, one of the musical collaborations that help to push me now that this project is out and we have an audience to look at it, and we have people right now to start conversation with now that we have this music. We'll just continue fi focus and stay steady pon di mission that we have, creatively leave some good gems in the world, to leave my name representing something that I really did from my heart and that supported the culture to go on into the future. I never known anything else in my life, I've only music and I give thanks for the opportunity that's presented now to share with the whole world!

Worldwide ting! I really love the idea when you said you want to build bridges in Reggae music… definitely look to Africa!

Gardy, we haffi look to Africa! Cause hear what, That's my ting… me just need to rise to a prominence, cause it have to make sense. When I rise to a certain prominence, I can keep my own organized events to bridge these things. It has to make sense! The history of Reggae, trust me, it has many different books, because it went so many places in the world, it even have a history with just New York City alone! Certain music that was recorded there, that wasn't recorded in Jamaica. Promised Land was recorded by Aswad's drummer in England, so the history is so… we haffi bridge it, we haffi alright with each other, and do Reggae, everybody, and win things from different angles, Grammy, NAACP, Emmy, Oscar… we haffi alright with it, me believe that! Cause it done buss we already, Jazz buss we, Blues, man ina Egypt and in Colombia, everything, it's a conscious thing. So mek we just alright with it, man. The creators will always be the creators, Gardy, but you always gonna have the children that come to continue and continue, and that's my whole thing.

And, yeah man, D'Rootsman EP is available for streaming, on all platforms. Big up my management team, Cre8tive Tribe and Chambers Media, my label, Ineffable Records, they've really added value to my already God-given talent, and we give thanks. And we give thanks to Reggaeville, too, for reaching out to bring the story to the people!

Yeah Gardy, at the end of all the straight and narrow questions I answered, the truth is I've only known music, I've never done anything else. I'm a dreamer, and I really wanna walk in the footsteps of dreams I have seen, Bob Marley, my mom Barbara Jones, all these people, they really inspire me, and I wanna do the things and experience the things, and live in it. Me belong to music, Gardy, trust me, me nuh belong to nuttin else.  

I think that's transmitted by the music you make, we can feel that!

Yeah, it's a feel thing! That a my likkle talent God give me… me work pon other things too, but the feel and the riddim, God give me the riddim. It help me to everything, the dancing, the drumming, the singing, it help me, the riddim weh God give me and I give thanks!

Thanks for the reasoning! May the people be touched by your music wherever you go.