Reggae journeyman Max Romeo is getting ready to pack his touring kit for the last time as he bids goodbye to the life on a road much travelled. For more than half of a century – 57 years to be exact – the roots reggae troubadour has traversed several continents, making an indelible mark as he flies the flag of reggae and Jamaica sky high.
Starting in May, the Rastafarian ambassador of reggae music will embark on his farewell tour alongside his children, to whom he is passing the baton. “It might be the end of an era for me, but reggae music will live on, and to embrace this, I have invited Azizzi Romeo and Xana Romeo along to showcase all I have taught them about roots, I call it The Romeo Effect’.”
The tour will see him revisiting places such as Israel, England, and, of course, France. Max Romeo speaks lovingly of the French people, and he also frankly speaks his mind about the relationship that Jamaica has with the music it birthed. But nothing less than boldness is expected of the singer, who has had to “put on [his] iron shirt to chase the devil out of the earth”.
“They love reggae music all over the world except Jamaica,” Romeo said, pausing for effect, as he added, “Roots reggae music cover the globe, dancehall music cover Jamaica … I have been saying this for more than 30 years.”
“It’s the French people who made me shine … that’s where it emerged. I have never played a concert in France and could walk through the crowd. They love the roots music … and my music in particular.”
Romeo, who went on his first tour in the late 1960s, made it clear that he would not be exiting the stage permanently as he will still be performing on one-off concerts.
In making his official announcement in December last year, the Wet Dreams singer told his fans, “I know this journey is not just about me. It’s about the music, it’s about the message, it’s about roots reggae, and it’s about you, my loyal fans, who have supported me over the years. I can fondly remember my first tour in the UK in the late 1960s straight until my tour last year in Europe. I have performed all over the world, and I have received nothing but love from you all. At 78 years old, I thank the Most High that I am still healthy and able to say farewell to you all – the right way.”
He is currently working on an album to be released in April, and this will be the prolific singer and songwriter’s 46th album. It follows his 2021 offering, World of Ghouls, and it should come as no surprise to those who have been following Romeo’s music that he believes that the world is filled with demons. Having seen and experienced much, Romeo was not shaken by the the COVID-19 pandemic, declaring that “pandemic is nothing new … . One of the wickedest pandemic we have in Jamaica right now is the gun pandemic”.
Romeo got nostalgic as he compared the state of the world today to back in the day and reflected on how he embraced the socio-political views of People’s National Party leader and former Prime Minister of Jamaica Michael Manley.
“I am a Manleyite from then until this day. In 1972, I was instrumental in Let the Power Fall on I, and I was one of the main persons on Bandwagon. Songs like No Joshua No and Socialism is Love were great motivation for Michael Manley. I like the majority of his policies, and during that time, we were singing lyrics that motivated the leaders,” Max Romeo recalled of the era when Manley was referenced as the biblical Joshua, who would lead his people out of captivity.
In 1971, his second album, Let the Power Fall, included what has been described as “a number of politically charged songs, and the PNP, which chose Let the Power Fall on I as their theme song for the 1972 Jamaican general election.
Max Romeo’s bio states that he worked with producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry on the album Revelation Time (1975) and also the album that some critics regard as his best work, War Ina Babylon. It was released in 1976, and 47 years later, Chase the Devil is enshrined as a classic.
Max Romeo has had a career that is nothing short of memorable, and off the cuff, he recounted instances such as performing on the Isle of Wight in a concert with Elton John, receiving five out of a maximum five stars for a performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – “I had people standing and it was a strict ‘No Standing’ venue”.
“In 2016, I had a concert in Burkina Faso, and I walked straight into a coup. I never hear so much shot fire in my life. I spent the night under my bed and was relieved when the promoter told us the next day that we could go home,” Romeo shared, chuckling at the memory.
He also went to perform in Yugoslavia right after a war and was the first Rastaman to perform at the EXIT Festival in Serbia.
“I have covered a lot of ground for reggae music,” Romeo said. “Instead of staying here and hustle, I go out and look it and bank it all right here in Jamaica and spend it right here,” Romeo, who is also a farmer, shared.
In closing, he noted:”Those days were better days. We were poor but loving. We learned to live with the poverty. Nowadays, the attitude is ‘I want mine now. I can’t wait until 5:50 p.m.’ Nobody wants to use their hands any more. Famine is going to be the future. Right now I am looking at my cows across the common. I’ve had a few disappointments with relationships, but right now, it’s okay. There are two important loves in my life: family and farming. And when I retire, I will focus on both,” Romeo said, a little wistfully.