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In 2007 singer Romain Virgo, then just 17 years old, made history as the youngest person to win Digicel Rising Stars, Jamaica’s wildly popular TV talent competition.

Romain clinched the contest with his rollicking interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”, which earned rave reviews from the judges and a standing ovation from the studio audience. He also won the hearts of Jamaican TV viewers with his good-natured humility and robust vocals, which evoke the essence of revered soul stars Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye.

Among the prizes bestowed upon the Rising Stars champion was JA$1 million (approximately US$11,300) and the opportunity to record with producers Richard “Shams” Browne and Tony Rebel. Rebel, a successful artist in his own right, referred Romain to veteran producer Donovan Germain, the founder of Penthouse Records whose label and recording studio provided a successful launching pad for many young reggae artists throughout the late 80 until the mid 90s including Rebel, Wayne Wonder, Cutty Ranks, Sanchez and Buju Banton whom Germain managed for 18 years.

Recognizing Romain’s vast potential, Germain encouraged him to write his own songs. Romain took that advice and has since penned several reggae hits including “Wanna Go Home (Rain Is Falling)”, “Murderer” and the Jamaican chart topper “Can’t Sleep”, which earned the singer many fans beyond the island’s shores. Those songs, alongside several new selections featured on Romain’s impressive, self-titled debut album, released in the summer of 2010 on VP Records, confirm that this rising star has now matured into a stellar reggae talent.

“Most people say I have been here before, that I am an old soul, and now I just come back,” said the singer who cites Bob Marley, Beres Hammond, Alton Ellis and Sanchez, in addition to the aforementioned American soul legends, among his greatest influences. “I want to do good music, and have it be played not just locally but all over the world. I want my music to make a difference.”

Romain Virgo (his birth name) was born in a small district called Stepney in the parish of St. Ann. He was raised in a Christian family that sang together each Saturday night and recorded their voices on cassettes, which they would play back on Sunday morning. While listening to their tapes one morning, a family friend inquired about one of the beautiful voices she heard; young Romain, however, didn’t pay much attention to the compliments elicited by his vocal abilities. “I never took it serious,” he reflected, “I said it is just people in the community that want to build my confidence. When I was about 10, I had the microphone and I was singing “Amazing Grace” in church because I like the sound of the echo in the church and everybody was saying whoa, you can really sing. That is when I started to take it seriously.”

Romain went on to become the lead singer for his church choir and by his mid-teens he was the leader of his high school choir. The Aabuthnott High School Choir entered All Together Sing, the weekly scholastic choir contest broadcast on the Jamaican television network TVJ; they placed second out of sixty contenders and Romain’s powerful vocals established him as a national celebrity. “The competition was shown on local TV so everyone would look out for it every Thursday night and that is how people started knowing me,” Romain says. “At the end of the competition in 2006, people were saying you need to enter Rising Stars next year.”

Romain did just that and he describes the experience as “a dream come true. I always wondered what it would be like to win, with all of the attention focused on me. That night when the host of the show said that the winner for 2007 is Romain Virgo, I was like (he laughs and then suddenly is at a loss for words, overcome by recollections of that victorious moment), I couldn’t move. I was just looking up, giving God thanks.” Now 22 years old, Romain is continuing his studies at Kingston’s Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts with a major in voice and a minor in keyboard. He balances his studies with a hectic live performance schedule and the further pursuit of his recording career, which received much greater attention since the release of his exceptional debut album.

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“Romain Virgo” boasts the singer’s biggest hit to date “Can’t Sleep”, the second song he recorded for Donovan Germain whose productions dominate the album. “Germain is a genius; he always has some interesting arrangements for the songs but he always listens to artists’ suggestions and encourages their talent,” notes Romain who recorded most of the tracks at Penthouse. “I wasn’t even looking at myself as a writer but after “Can’t Sleep” Germain said I can really write.” “Can’t Sleep’s” appealing, deep reggae grooves and Romain’s animated delivery belie the grim ghetto realities depicted in the song’s lyrics: “This is a serious time, violence and crime and a bare gun thing di youths dem have pon dem mind/Mi cyan sleep a pure gunshot a beat.”

Several songs offer equally compelling commentaries on the tough conditions in Jamaica: “Who Feels It Knows It” featuring the dynamic Jamaican songstress Etana, is an emotive recession era anthem: “You think it easy fi stand up and watch di youth a cry fi food fi nyam (eat)/ But a who feels it knows it we a feel it from we likkle and a grow.” Escalating violence is addressed on “Be Careful” and “Murderer”, which decries the increasing amount of crimes being committed against children and was produced by Dawin Brown and Omar Brown of Vikings Productions, who along with Germain comprise Romain’s management team). “I was thinking about the things that are going on in Jamaica and the effects it has on people’s lives, especially in the ghetto,” Romain explained. “Sometimes people can’t leave their communities because of the gun shots. It is disgusting so I said it is for me to do something about it, say something about it, so I wrote these songs.”

“No Money” depicts Romain’s financial realities, a response to the nonstop requests for cash he received following his million dollar prize and subsequent hit singles (“mi have no money and you laugh like you think seh it funny”); in a similar vein “As The Money Done” was inspired by the many females who reveled in the glamour of rolling with the single Rising Stars winner but quickly lost interest when his money was gone.

The passion and purity in Romain’s vocals as well as the natural charisma he exudes in his live performances has sent many young (and not so young) women into nearly uncontrollable frenzies. Acknowledging his enormous female fan base, his debut offers several sensitively sung romantic selections reflecting love, loneliness, attraction and betrayal. “Dark Skinned Girl” is a thoughtful ode to Jamaican women. Romain longs for the woman he loves on the romantic “Wanna Go Home (Rain Is Falling)” produced by Dyan Foster for Pete Music. A beautiful melody is used to comfort a distraught woman fleeing a violent relationship on “Taking You Home” and the soulful “Love Doctor” offers the right prescription for any emotional ailment. Although he’s in the uncomfortable position of telling his girl “the girl he left her for doesn’t want him no more”, Romain’s expressive vocals are nonetheless in superb form on “Should I Call Her?”; he then declares, over a steady one drop beat he’s “just a player” whose “Walking Out on You”, both tracks courtesy of Vikings Productions.

Romain deftly rides the frenetic Duck Dance riddim (a revival of Steely and Clevie’s popular late 80s beat) on “Customer Care”, his response to an onslaught of offers from women who want 24-7 “service” then he changes the mood, singing of “hard times, still mi nah do no crime” on “Live Mi Life”, his vibrant turn on producer Shane C. Brown’s brilliant reworking of the Boops riddim, also from the late 80s. The concluding track “I’m Doing Good” features Cameal Davis (who also made history as Digicel’s Rising Stars’ first female winner in 2008) their voices uniting to inspire the beneficent spirit that dwells in all of us.

“Sometimes I wonder if these artists know the power that they have?” asks Romain whose spectacular debut consistently provides much needed positive messages aimed at young people, as written and sung by one of their own. “Young people listen mostly to young people so I don’t see nothing wrong in singing something positive, because it will help to change this whole negative vibe.” Clearly, Romain recognizes the influence he wields and as a true rising star he uses it to dazzling effect.

Romain made his California festival debut at SNWMF last year.  His exuberance and upfull spirit made him a pleasure to work with.  He was such a massive hit with the audience that the festival has asked him to return once again making him the first SNWMF artist in nearly a decade to perform back-to-back years.  

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