Stephen Newland sticking to roots

Richard Johnson

Sunday, November 10, 2013

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WATCHING Stephen Newland, the frontman for the reggae band Rootz Underground, is a study in passion and unbridled energy.

The hardcore, rock-influenced reggae beats of this 13-year-old aggregation form the backdrop and soundtrack for Newland's raspy vocals which set off his jumping, high-flying stage acrobatics and an intensity which he admits is all music-induced, and it doesn't matter if he is performing for 20 or 20,000.

The six-member band gave a commanding performance at Wickie Wackie Live in St Thomas recently.

"My first audience was the lawn and trees in my backyard, that allows you to be able to magnify your performance, tap into that spiritual transmission energy and bring forth your passion in every performance," says the 39-year-old Newland.

He also admits that his on-stage energy comes from the work ethic of Rootz Underground.

"Every rehearsal is like we are preparing for a Grammy Awards performance... you have to recognise the infinite power of a performance. You might look at the audience and think nobody nuh deh yah, but you don't know who is in the audience. We have had situations when on tour we are in a venue which can hold 700 and only 100 people show up. The truth is the roads were blocked due to a snow storm. Those 100 patrons not only paid the same money, but made their way in bad weather to see us, so they deserve a great show."

Newland cites examples of dedicated such as Stevie Wonder who, he says, still gives great shows after 50 years in the music. He said he is also influenced by guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who died at age 28, and reggae king Bob Marley, who passed away at age 36, as both who are still revered for their powerful performances.

The influence of Marley is, however, far from fleeting. Newland is often likened to Marley, an association which he
now takes as a huge compliment.

"At one stage, I was aggravated by the constant comparisons, especially when they termed me a Marley wannabe. But I have learned to accept and now just see it as kool," Newland relates.

This thunderball of musical energy stays healthy by engaging in physical exercise and trying to stick to a healthy diet.

Along with his
bandmates Charles Lazarus, Jeffrey Moss-Solomon, Leon Campbell, Paul 'Scooby' Smith and Colin Young, Newland is preparing for the March 2014 release of the first of two volumes of Return of the Righteous, an album featuring veterans such as Toots and the Maytals and newcomers Keida and Sherita. The second volume is set to drop late next year.

The band is also looking forward to its maiden South American tour next year with stops in Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil.

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