Interview: Levi Roots

LevirootswebEntrepreneur Levi Roots is best known for his winning way with a condiment after triumphing in BBC programme Dragon’s Den.

But prior to his success with his Reggae Reggae sauce, Levi has been a singer songwriter dealing in roots reggae.

Levi Roots’s debut single Poor Man’s Story was produced by the great UK sound system legend Lloyd Coxsone and he’s since released numerous well-received albums including Free Your Mind and Red Hot. Now work is underway on another record – we caught up with Levi to find out what he’s planning with his new LP and the future for the Reggae Reggae brand…

How did you first get into music?

My grandma was a great singer and I grew up in a Baptist church but it was through soundsystems that I really found music.

At 16 I left school and joined up with a UK soundsystem called Sir Coxsone. That was my first step into music. Back in those days soundsystems were the way reggae was promoted. Now it’s radio and online but in the seventies and eighties the soundsystems were the bridge between Jamaica and the music heard here.

Bob Marley changed my life with his album Natty Dreads. It made me fall in love with music and the reggae lifestyle. Rebel music or what they call roots was conscious music that went to the very soul.

How did you begin playing music?

My first producer was the owner of the first soundsystem I joined up with. He was the first one to spot that I wasn’t just a follower of the sound, I also had a penchant for the mike too. In those days, it was toasting, just chatting and weaving in and out between the vocals to, as we call it, nice up the dance. Make people feel a little bit better about themselves. He recognised I had a really good voice and in 1979 I recorded my first song, Poor Man’s Story. From then on I really wanted to be a proper musician.

I met many iconic singers and musicians at the dances. I became a friend of Bob Marley’s when he was over here, Peter Tosh, Sly and Robbie. I can’t believe it when I look back at my life how I met all my heroes.

Why do you think reggae took off in the UK?

People were waiting for something to happen, for a music to bring everyone together and soul and hip hop didn’t do it like reggae did. Society tells you how you should look, dress and walk along the street but reggae music, like punk, answers those questions by saying anyone can get involved. That makes it one of the most revolutionary types of music.

You’re recording a new album – how has it been making the record?

It’s the most difficult music project because of my success with Dragon’s Den, I’ve got a far bigger audience. Before I was roots reggae but this time I’m dipping into a different musical bag to answer the questions from those people buying my Reggae Reggae sauce. It’s been a fantastic journey. One of the best things I did was winning Dragon’s Den and singing the Reggae Reggae song. But now I think people are waiting for more music from me to cook with me.

So there’s a lot of expectation around the album release?

Wherever you go you can find the Levi Roots products. Selling the sauce using the word ‘reggae’ has meant I’ve got the word into millions of homes where it wouldn’t previously be. It would be fantastic to get the music in those homes too. Part of the Reggae Reggae song features the line – ‘put some music in your food’. Now I think I’m personally responsible for doing that.

Where did you make the record?

We started collecting and writing the songs in London but I went back to Jamaica to record in the same studios used by Bob Marley. It inspired me so much, using some of the musicians who worked with him on his recordings to really capture that vibe.

What is the album about?

It’s a new way of thinking. Before it was roots and culture, religious in the rasta way but with this new LP I wanted to write songs to try and inspire new people. We’ve done a version of Don’t Worry, Be Happy. That message is what I’ve been about for the last few years with my success as an entrepreneur. You can do it if you really want.

Choosing messages like this is important for the album. I went to primary schools in Scotland where there are no black people but every kid knows the reggae sauce song. They know about Levi Roots and are inspired by my times in Dragon’s den; from zero to someone who is worth a lot of money.

What came first for you – music or food?

I think my cooking skills came first although I didn’t see it as something that could be a career. Most Jamaican kids, especially boys, have to do well in the kitchen from an early age. I loved cooking but hated the washing up! But I always thought whatever I did would involve music – toaster, DJ, record label owner – it wasn’t until 2005 that I realised this is something I could do to change my life around.

What does the future hold for you?

I’ll be playing live and touring as we do every year. Once the album is out we can do major festivals and put some music into food, to get reggae music back out there.

Visit the Levi Roots website for more information.

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