Three years after breaking out as the Season Four winner of Digicel Rising Stars, singer Romain Virgo keeps ascending. Countless concert performances and an acclaimed, hit-laden album to his credit, the 20-year-old reggae-pop sensation is about to embark on his first solo tour, a month-long engagement that will see him delighting crowds in Austria, Italy, Norway and a host of other European states. TALLAWAH sat down with the singer last week to discuss his expanding career in the spotlight, reaching a wider audience on tour and how his mom motivates him to be his best self.
Last month you performed on a successful US tour as the opening act for deejay Capleton. How did that tour come about?
His management team and mine are very close so they linked us with the idea. The promoter who was doing the show wanted a singer, and we decided to go with it because we knew that me and Capleton would blend well together on tour. And he’s one of the artistes that I really respect and look up to. I’ve been listening to him for a long time.
You have been performing on the road a lot these days. Tell me about the experience of being able to reach a broader audience with your music.
It’s good because all of the places we toured, I was performing there for the first time. What I realised was that though some of the people never saw my face before, they knew most of the songs. So by me going there to perform, they were able to put a face to the music. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to go on stage and see people singing, especially the songs you weren’t expecting them to know. It was just amazing.
When did you first decide to become a singer?
In high school. When I was on [the TV J show] All Together Sing, people were always encouraging me to enter Rising Stars. So the motivation was always there. It was around that time that I seriously started considering a career in music.
And how does your family feel about your current spate of success?
First of all, it kinda makes my family feel more comfortable with me doing music. The entire community back home [in Stepney, St. Ann] is like my family. They are very excited and happy for me. They support me 110 percent, especially my mommy.
What kind of advice do they give you?
Mommy always tell me to never give up, even before now, and before I started [attending] Edna Manley College. I even told her one day that I was going to enter Rising Stars and win and use the money to pay for college. So the reaction from my family [about my success] is one of pride. It’s all love from my entire family.
I am astounded by the quality of the lyrics you wrote for your first album, Introducing Romain Virgo? Tell me about your approach to the craft of songwriting.
I’m from a poor family so a lot of what I write is from my experiences. And sometimes people will share things with me, and I get inspired to write a song. For me, it’s not hard to write; you just have to know how to structure the lyrics properly for the song to work.
How do you plan to top the success of the debut album?
Right now promotion is key. People in the industry are realizing more and more that albums nowadays are not really selling, so you have to try to get people to listen to you more on the live scene. You have to reach out there more, and that is what my team and I are working on.
Were you at all surprised by the overwhelmingly warm reception the album received?
Definitely. It’s been almost three years since I have been recording original material. So to put out an album this early and get that kind of response is surprising. On tour, people were buying the album at the shows and that felt good.
What plans do you have to close off the year?
Well, apart from the tour in Europe that I have coming up, I am also looking forward to performing in December on the GT Taylor show, maybe Sting and definitely Rebel Salute early next year. That’s where my focus is.
Musically, who are you listening to right now?
The great ones who have been there like Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Beres Hammond and Alton Ellis. I also enjoy listening to artistes like Jah Cure, Queen Ifrica, Chris Martin and I-Octane.
So what have you learned about yourself this year?
My confidence has risen to a higher level. I used to be so nervous going on stage, but now I don’t watch the crowd; I just think of the music and the message.
It’s no pressure because of the love that I have for what I do. I don’t see it as work. I enjoy what I do and that helps me to keep the stress away.