In the five years since he made history as the youngest winner of Television Jamaica’s (TVJ) popular “Rising Stars” talent competition at just 17-years-old, Romain Virgo has emerged as one of the island’s finest singer/songwriters whose innate skills ensure that quality, consciously themed roots reggae will continue to flourish.
At only 22 years of age, Romain Virgo has already produced 11 hit songs, 2 albums, and has received multiple awards from the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association and Linkage (Reggae) Awards. The inaugural winner of the Digicel Rising Stars competition is currently pursuing his Bachelor’s degree at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, majoring in Voice and minoring in Keyboard.
Always keen to please his fans, Romaine has no qualms about sitting down with me to discuss a few of the social issues plaguing Jamaica’s young adults. He is dripping with sweat, having just delivered an enthusiastic performance at a UWI Hall of Residence dinner where he was greeted with considerable appreciation. Nor does he seem bashful about his vibrant fan club, posing for picture after picture with the same easy, open smile.
Despite the less than ideal condition of a bustling backstage arena, Romain focuses unerringly on my questions and answers them with a thoughtful sincerity.
“In your songs, you identify a lot with the struggling ghetto youth,” I begin. “Do you think enough is being done to facilitate young adult empowerment in Jamaica?”
He inhales slowly with a whispered “Wow,” and pauses to think. In the meantime, I observe a young man who appears to be completely comfortable with himself, wearing self-assurance like a second skin.
“I think they’ve done so much, but there’s so much more to be done. Education is the only savior for someone like a ghetto youth,” he affirms. “I think the emphasis needs to be on building more schools and more training institutions. Instead of prisons,” he quips, smiling.
He pauses to sign an autograph or two, a welcoming smile always at the ready.
“Do you think you’re doing enough in your capacity as an artiste – and certainly as someone with a lot of sway with the public – to advocate for young adult issues?” I ask next.
His reply is an enthused “Yes!” followed quickly by an answer with a little more humility.
“Well, I think I do,” he laughs, somewhat self-consciously. “I try my best. I use music to empower people. I do motivational talks in communities. I try to reach out to, you know, the youths that might not have it as easy as some of us do. I think music is important as a tool to reach out to people.”
It’s obvious that music and entertainment are his passions, and his zeal for outreach via these channels is almost infectious.
“What role do you think entertainment has in changing the lives of people in this country?” I inquire.
He responds without hesitation. “Entertainment definitely has a role,” he begins, “but at the same time every song can’t be about the serious issues. If everyone did the same thing, it would get boring, right? So I think entertainment has to be about saving as well as entertaining people.”
He finishes the last statement and leans forward, assuming the pose common to Jamaican men when they are doing some ‘serious reasoning’.
“Do you think what you’re doing will impact the future?” I press.
“I hope so,” he admits readily. “I have the dream that every song will be a social commentary,” he adds, “that they’ll reach out to people and maybe change their lives.”
It is an admirable dream for someone who has seen so many of his own dreams reach fruition.
I am impressed with his tolerance and indulgence in accommodating me. Not once does he glance at his watch or his manager with tacit impatience. Finally, before the sweat has quite cooled on his skin, I bring up my very last line of enquiry.
“What do you want your legacy to be?” I question. “How would you like people to remember Romain Virgo?”
Again, he gives a small chuckle before answering.
“I guess I want them to remember me as the guy who always had something positive to say. As an uplifting kind of person,” he adds, laughing. “I don’t know, that’s it, I guess.”