Romain Virgo is undoubtedly one of Jamaica’s finest vocalists and live performers, but even 16 years later, he never rests in the comfort of his stature.
The lovers rock crooner is always eyeing expansion and development around his artistry, a philosophy that is at the root of his UK tour starting Monday. He last performed there in 2018 to promote his Lovesick album, which marked his first solo tour.
“This tour is almost like that one as I’m trying to push out there by myself some more,” Virgo told DancehallMag. “At that time, I brought Sevana on the road with me and it was a beautiful experience. Going on the road over the years, first time it was with Beres [Hammond] and Tarrus [Riley], next time it was with Sanchez, and I think the other time it was with Freddie McGregor. It was always going with somebody else and as a team, we always wanted to try and build and see the people who would come out for me, and see how I can grow from there and how I can bring somebody along with me in the whole process…”
This time, he’s highlighting his supporting vocalists Janeel Mills and Tori Lattore, who’ll open each two-hour show in Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, London and Leicester with a 30-minute set.
“They’re so many talented artists here as females and until we see that and try to see them for their talent and wanting to be a part of that whole push and change for them, we’ll always have a male-dominated industry,” the I Know Better singer said. “I’m just tired to see so many talented females come and then you just don’t hear anything about them anymore. Every day, I tell my supporting vocalists I feel blessed to have them.
“Over the years, I’ve worked with quite a few but I don’t think I’ve ever worked with any so talented and I wouldn’t want to lose out on giving them my absolute all in terms of trying to help them to get out there with their career, and to a point where they can branch off. As much as I wouldn’t have them around me anymore, it would be good to know that I would have helped somebody to achieve their goals in whatever way I can, so, I look forward to seeing them blossom and take off.”
He also spoke highly of his band who he’s been locked in with since 2020. The ensemble features musicians from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where Virgo enrolled after winning Digicel’s Rising Stars competition in 2007. By his own admission, it costs a cute penny to travel with a full band, but Virgo is grateful for a team that shares his vision for growth and musical excellence at an international level.
Their synergy on stage is undeniable. Flashback to Virgo’s Reggae Sumfest performance this summer, the band was coordinated in dress and sound (complementing Virgo’s signature gentleman fit), and Janeel and Tori were hitting vocals and choreo. In an age where new-gen artists are often criticized for subpar live performances, Virgo continuously stands out on records as he does on stage.
“The very first time I went on tour to perform (2010/2011), it was with somebody whose thing is energy – Capleton… Watching him go out every night, even though most of his songs are in a singjay-deejay kinda vibe, just that energy that he gives every night – leaving everything out there – was something that I took from him. I also love to watch Buju Banton perform. He is somebody that is just energy on stage and feeling and passion with every single thing that he does.”
“There are so many others that I just enjoy watching on stage. I love to watch Beres perform too and the arrangement of his set and just how the band plays. It’s almost like everybody is so connected that when you watch his performance, you’re so in-tuned that you don’t want to take your eyes off the stage because you might miss something important… That is the kind of performer I’ve always wanted to be by watching these artists. I feel like I take a little bit of this and that from everybody and put it together, so, even though I’m a singer, I always believe that the energy has to be up there on stage and my supporting vocalists kinda feed off my energy. The band feeds off our energy as well.”
He tailors his set per region, which will be no different as he performs in a culture that soaks up lovers rock. But he’ll also be singing new music, like Switch You On, which premiered on Wednesday. Using the stereo as a playful metaphor for the physical connection with his ladylove, the track oozes the reggae framework that has built Virgo, but intrigues with its pop flavour which gives an inkling of the creative space he’s been in.
“It’s way outside of what people would probably normally hear me singing, but I like it for me,” he said. “It’s something new and fresh and has this pop sound which is a music I enjoy too, so, to mix reggae with that, for sure, will probably open the ears of other people out there.”
Switch You On was produced by music powerhouse Donovan ‘Don Corleon’ Bennett and written by Mathew ‘Keely Key’ Keaveny. They are also credited for the sonically-refreshing Driver, and both singles will be featured on Virgo’s upcoming album.
The ‘Love Doctor’ has also evolved into a content creator, and intends to capture the UK tour experience on his family’s YouTube channel (though he’s also big on living in the moment, device-free). He also wants to start exploring more of the countries he tours.
“There are so many places I’ve been around the world. I’d tell somebody, we’re in Italy now. Next time around we’re in Costa Rica, Belize, Japan, wherever, and when you sit back and think about how Japan was, all you can remember is getting there, reaching the venue, jumping on stage, performing, reaching back to your hotel room, and trying to leave the next morning. You can’t tell, oh, I visited this place and I got to see this or that, so, nowadays, we’re trying to reach a day or two earlier or stay later to try to experience more of the culture.”