Run the track, Rodigan
On his first trip here in 1995, David Rodigan brought thousands of people together for a reggae concert at Horseshoe Bay. Although he’s been to Bermuda several times since, that visit stands out for the British deejay and broadcaster — it was the first time he played Bob Marley’s Natural Mystic.
Rodigan, or “Ram Jam” as he’s often called, has an illustrious career that’s wrapped around reggae.
Now 68, he’s been honoured many times for his musical contributions, perhaps most notably with an MBE.
He’ll be back on the island next month for a concert commemorating the 170th anniversary of the arrival of the first Portuguese immigrants.
Q: Why do you keep coming back?
A: Bermudians love reggae music. When I discovered that, I decided I would keep coming back.
They really do have a passion for reggae — both old and new school. Some people say the new dancehall, the way it’s structured, doesn’t have the weight and kick of Nineties dancehall.
I’m of that opinion, and I know a lot of people feel like this as well, but the younger generation clearly likes this type of music, and so I play everything from the classics to the more recent stuff. [But I only play artists] who aren’t glorifying violence. I don’t champion singers who glorify violence or who are misogynistic in any shape or form.
Q: What got you interested?
A: When I was a teenager in the Sixties I heard ska music just like millions of people around the world, and have done since. There are now more new young ska bands than in the original days of ska.
It has an incredible backbeat that people can identify with and dance to. By the time I was 16, in 1967, music had changed to rock steady and I was completely hooked.
Q: You’ve received numerous honours throughout your career. Why do you think people have such respect for what you do?
A: I think I’ve earned it because I care about the music I play. I had the good fortune to be on BBC and radio for over 40 years and I’ve gone into an arena most people wouldn’t dream of — sound clash culture. In the early Nineties I started clashing and thought it would be fun and it was fun. I remember the last show I did here, at Horseshoe Bay. I often used costumes to elaborate my performance.
A new chief of police had been appointed and I was on the beach in chinos, a blazer and white shirt — a white guy with a bald head. I looked like a dentist or something.
The rumour went around that the new chief of police was on the beach, but it was a deliberate move to look unlike [what people would expect of] a reggae deejay.
On stage, I could see people collapsing with laughter and then I start playing music, which shows I know what I’m talking about!
Q: Were people initially surprised that you were white?
A: A lot of people in the early years presumed that, because I was talking with passion and fervour and authenticity, they presumed I was a black Englishman.
It was a bit of a shock when I started performing in Jamaica and there was an element of that in Bermuda.
I was told on many occasions, by Bermudians, that that first show on Horseshoe Bay was one of the first events where white and black Bermudians came together.
I’m not a Bermudian and had never been here before, so I don’t know how true that is, but people say that event on Horseshoe Bay was the first time in any significant way that the two communities of youth had come together, and it was because of the common denomination of reggae music.
Q: I understand you recently put out a book?
A: Yes. My biography. I published it first in hardback and it’s done really well. It’s called My Life in Reggae and came out in 2017 in hardback and 2018 in paperback. People asked me for years to write my biography and I [finally] did with a highly respected journalist, Ian Burrell.
Q: In a given year, where do your performances take you?
A: This year I was in Japan in the spring and, in January, Australia and New Zealand; I am in Jamaica in November. I do a lot of shows in Europe and some shows in England.
I also work with a 26-piece orchestra, The Outlook Orchestra. We did a show on March 12 and sold out the Royal Albert Hall in three hours. I chose a collection of songs, from ska to rock steady to reggae, which reflect the journey of reggae music.
With the orchestra leader all these songs are rewritten for every single piece, every single instrument, and we bring on special guests to sing them as many of the great artists that sang these songs are no longer with us. So it’s a real reflection of Jamaican heritage.
Q: As you see it, what’s the Bermuda appeal?
A: I think the sheer beauty of the island overall, is something to behold. No one can not be knocked out by what they see when they land in Bermuda.
There are beautiful landscapes, views and the climate and people are so friendly. It has a spirit of its own. I’ve never seen anywhere so immaculate in the way it’s laid out and the way it’s kept clean.
Q: What should the audience expect from you?
A: My love of music will be reflected in what I play and what I say. I am there to entertain; that’s why I’m coming there, that’s what I do.
I entertain people with music and I’d like to think that I bring joy and happiness. And to be there to celebrate the 170th anniversary — that’s an incredible occasion.
Q: Plan to keep going for ever?
A: Somebody once said, retirement is when people stop doing what they never wanted to do and start doing what they always wanted to do.
I’ve always wanted to do what I’m doing so I don’t want to stop — unless the phone stops ringing. If The Rolling Stones can still be performing in their 70s, so can I.
David Rodigan will take the stage for Live in Concert, a show put on by JSC Promotions and Veterans in Action under the big tent at No 1 Car Park at 8pm on November 3. Richie Campbell and Romain Virgo will also perform along with C’daynger, DJ Rusty G and YGS. Tickets — $85 general admission and $200 VIP — are available at Cafe Acoreano, Vasco Da Gama, People’s Pharmacy, Kit N Caboodle, Belvin’s Variety, Somers Supermarket, Freshmen and bdatix.bm. Mr Rodigan will sign copies of My Life In Reggae at Brown&Co on November 2 from 12.30pm to 2.30pm
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