How Rising Reggae Star Romain Virgo Is Breaking...At U.S. Caribbean Restaurants, Barbershops, Beauty Salons
How Rising Reggae Star Romain Virgo Is Breaking...At U.S. Caribbean Restaurants, Barbershops, Beauty Salons

Romain Virgo, a rising roots reggae singer whose new album The System is just out on VP Records.

With strong support from Jamaica's music fraternity and his rapidly expanding fan base, singer Romain Virgo, 22 is a leading light among a new generation of roots reggae stars. The rising star just celebrated the release of his sophomore album The System (VP Records) on May 30th with a free concert/album launch at Kingston's Emancipation Park.

Since its release on May 8th The System has spent 4 weeks on the Top Reggae Album chart where it currently resides at No. 20, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

Backed by his band The Unit (expanded to 11 members at the launch, including a three piece brass section), Virgo delivered ten of The System's 15 tracks. Alternating between romantic declarations ("Rich In Love"), heartfelt social commentaries ("The System") and contemplative anti-violence pleas ("I Know Better"), each elicited an enthusiastic response from the audience of nearly 2,000 while demonstrating the maturation in Virgo's writing and performances skills since the June 2010 release of his self titled debut album for VP.

"My management team (comprised of The System producers Dawin Brown, Omar Brown, Shane Brown and Donovan Germain) and I saw that too many artists release their albums and no one knows about it; so we thought an album launch and free concert would be the best way for people to hear what The System is all about," explained Virgo in an interview at Kingston's Wyndham Hotel following the Emancipation Park performance. The launch, advertised via Twitter, Facebook and Romain's promotional radio interviews attracted sponsorship from Jamaica's corporate sector including Red Bull, Pepsi, Courts Furniture and telecommunications giant Digicel.

Digicel is also the title sponsor of the island's popular talent competition "Rising Stars," broadcast on Television Jamaica (TVJ); in 2007 Virgo, then 17, made history as Rising Stars' youngest winner.

Following his "Rising Stars" victory, Virgo transitioned into a successful recording career, commencing with his mentorship with producer Donovan Germain whose Penthouse Records (label/recording studio) has provided the launching pad for many Jamaican artists including Buju Banton. Germain encouraged Virgo to write his own songs and produced the artist's earliest (self-penned) hits including the socially conscious singles "Mi Can't Sleep" and "Who Feels It Knows It," which both reached the upper tiers of various Jamaican charts.

Aaron Talbert, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Queens, New York based independent VP Records says the label's stateside promotional campaign for The System primarily targets the Caribbean Diaspora; meetings with fans and industry at various locales were scheduled during Virgo's week of paid/promotional dates throughout the Northeast U.S. in April.

"Whereas the independent music retailer was once the catalyst for putting artists in front of people, that catalyst now is the Caribbean restaurant, barbershop or beauty salon. So bringing Romain to those places puts him in front of his core supporters here," notes Talbert. "The core market here loves Romain's music but they don't know his face so we are trying to build his profile; he understands that and is willing to do the work, posing for photos, signing CDs, posters etc," adds Dane Bogle, A&R and Radio Promotions, VP Records, and the front person for The System's Promo run.

Virgo's west coast tour begins on June 23rd at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, in Boonville, California and concludes on July 7th at Seattle's Club Sur.

In September 2011 Virgo made history again as the first Jamaican artist to perform at the Academy of Country Music Awards, (alongside veterans The Gatlin Brothers) in Nashville, garnering a standing ovation for his reggae rendition of the Gatlins' 1979 hit "All The Gold in California". Recorded with Larry Gatlin, Romain's (re-titled) "California" was the lead single for the various artists' effort Reggae's Gone Country (Warner Nashville/VP Records) the first reggae album to reach the Country Albums chart, debuting at no. 65 in September 2011. "When I first heard Romain sing 'all de gold in California' I fell in love with it," said Gatlin on the phone from Nashville. "People can tell when it's phony and this man wasn't phony, he did it the right way. He's a great singer."

At home where his clean-cut image, humble demeanor and exemplary work ethic provides a refreshing alternative to the litany of personal and professional problems that have impeded many dancehall artists' careers, Virgo was named The Jamaica Recording Industry Association (JaRIA) Entertainer of the Year. Through various social media platforms, nominations were submitted by the public, from which JaRIA's industry-wide committee selected the winner.

"Romain was chosen because of his impact across a broad demographic; he has maintained a positive, conscious message, at a time when many of our popular acts have deviated from that rich reggae tradition. The committee views Romain as destined to become one of the biggest reggae stars of his generation," says JaRIA chairman Charles Campbell.

In preserving the roots reggae tradition, Virgo has chosen empowering messages over misogynistic and violent lyrics, intricately textured one-drop rhythms instead of frenetic digital beats. His choices may not reflect his contemporaries' dominant tastes but Virgo has nonetheless found an appreciative, multi-generational audience.

"The type of music I am doing right takes time to grow, especially based on how Jamaica is right now, where people prefer the faster paced dancehall (reggae) stuff, but this is the music that I want to do," Virgo comments. "I want my music live on with the same kind of vibe that people have towards reggae music from 40 years ago."

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