Roland & The Roots Riddim is a dynamic roots rock Reggae band that has been writing and performing together for over five years. The band consists of talented, hard-working musicians and singers – all lovers of Reggae music who enjoy sharing positive vibes with all people. Their high energy shows mix roots reggae, soul, rock, and traditional African influences to provide an amazing experience that’s inspiring and entertaining.
The Roots Riddim’s high energy is influenced and directed by the lead-singer & frontman, Roland “Mista Muzic” Kemokai. Born in Liberia, West Africa, Roland was discarded on a dump-pile as a baby. He struggled through poverty, violent abuses, and the Liberian civil war while utilizing remarkable gifts of strength, perseverance, and his music to survive. These qualities have resonated with his band members, who each believe that through the power of music they can contribute both locally to their community and more broadly to the world.
Roland is multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer who uses his music to share his belief in the power of forgiveness, positive thinking, and the potential for greatness within us all. He is also a vocal instructor, published author, and empowerment speaker.
Roland says, “Music is my first love and sacred space of tranquility. When bullets were flying everywhere taking lives randomly and mortar shells dreadfully blasting in the streets of Monrovia, my 3-stringed village guitar became my best friend and deepest comfort. And now with the Roots Riddim Band we can really turn up the vibes.”
Read on for the exclusive interview.
Congratulations on being AMF’s Artist of the Month! What does being recognized as our Artist Of The Month mean to you?
I’ll first like to say a heartfelt Thank You to Emily Miller and the entire AMF family for this special honor. After many long hours of writing lyrics, composing music, rehearsing for concerts, and putting on high energy performances, my team and I are grateful and honored to be recognized and selected as AMF’s Artist of the Month. I personally see this as a meaningful encouragement – a pat on the back that says, “We see you and like what you’re doing.” Hard-work pays off, and I definitely feel inspired to keep on working, creating, and putting out good music.
We’ve been loving your version of ‘Redemption Song.’ What inspired you to recreate such an iconic piece?
Ahh that makes me smile. I’m happy to know that you guys are loving my version of this beautiful song. Like you said, “Redemption Song” is an iconic piece, and Bob Marley is an inspiring legend. From my teenage days of walking around barefoot in the Shoes Factory Community, carrying an old cassette-playing walkman and grooving to roots reggae music, “Redemption Song” always touched my heart. Quoting Marcus Garvey’s words, “None but ourselves can free our minds,” Bob Marley gave me the single line of inspiration that helped me tap into the power of self-determination. The power to think for yourself, decide your own identity, and choose how you want to show up in this world.
So every time I sing this song, I feel this deep sadness for humanity concerning the current geo political, cultural, socioeconomic struggles, and systemic oppression that’s hurting billions of people. As an artist and a member of this human family, I did this rendition of “Redemption Song” to encourage a fellow human being listening somewhere that you’re not alone in this struggle. In the song, I called on the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and many other great human beings to help guide us. My vision is to use my voice, music, and creativity to uplift the human race – it gives meaning and purpose to my life.
When did you start making music, and how has doing so impacted your life?
I started my musical journey at the age of six when I found a toy, plastic harmonica in the sand. I started making noises with it, annoying the adults, and sometimes getting slapped for making too much noise. To them it was noise, but I felt great each time I played on that little harmonica. Later on during the war in my country, I had to live in the village where I started creating my own make-shift instruments from big logs and large bamboo trees. I later on taught myself how to play the one-stringed harp, three-stringed guitar, and started entertaining others around me; They sometimes gave me food in return.
After graduating as valedictorian of my high school, I got an opportunity to come to the USA to attend college. While in school, I taught myself how to play the piano, guitar, bass guitar, drums, and then I just started writing songs and composing music all the time. With over four hundred songs written, I soon realized I needed to build my own studio, learn audio engineering, and start making my own records just they way I hear them in my head and how I feel them in my soul.
I can honestly say making music, especially the music that flows from my essence, is the single most liberating and empowering experience of my life.
When people told me I was just a dumpster/dump-pile baby and that I would be nothing, when bullets were flying and mortar shells raining and taking lives in Monrovia, Liberia, when my father was killed during the war while I was eleven years old and left to virtually raise myself, when I couldn’t find food to eat, when I had no-one to care for or about me and life felt so dark and lonely that I wanted to take my own life, and when I had painful experiences here in America, my music always became my safe place – a sacred space of tranquility.
When I am in my studio writing or producing a song, I feel like a direct line between me and the Divine opens up – everything flows, everything makes sense, I am in love, I am at peace, I transcend all my struggles, and then I get excited about sharing all of this love with my fellow human beings.
I am so grateful to have this gift that brings me so much life, joy, energy, and allows me to help other people smile, dance, cry tears of joy, and just dance some more. I could go on forever about my love for music and its impact on my life.
You’re originally from Liberia, West Africa. How did your experiences there inspire your music?
Yes indeed I am a proud son of Liberia, West Africa. I’d say there are two major factors from Liberia that inspire my music. One, my painful life experiences, and two, the culture. When I was born, my biological parents put me in a cardboard box and threw me away on the smelly community dump site and left. An elderly lady walking by on her way home, heard a baby crying from the trash heap. She put her cain down, climbed on top of the pile of garbage, and found a cardboard box violently shaking. When she pried the box open, she saw a baby laying in the box, covered in fire ants. She began screaming in shock as she frantically try to help save my life. After a police investigation and they couldn’t find my biological parents, she decided to raise me as her own. She and her husband took me in and began raising me. Although they already had their grown children, they called me “la ma leng,” which means “the last child” or “the baby.”
Yes I was loved by my mama and papa, but I was verbally, physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by some of their older children and other relatives. When I was eight years old, my mother left for America. Shortly afterwards, the Liberian Civil War started. My father was murdered during this time. On the night of his death, I just found myself singing, singing and singing. Even while virtually raising myself and hustling for survival in the streets of Monrovia during the war, I still kept on singing. And I haven’t stopped singing since. I think sometimes I just sing to keep myself from crying….ha ha ha ha.
The second factor inspiring my music and creativity is a rich West African – Liberian cultural heritage.
Liberia is an African country made of many different tribal groups that speak different dialects or languages, and each tribe has its own cultural traditions and practices. However, no matter how different the tribes may be, the biggest common theme that connects all the tribes is Music! Every tribe has its own forms of instruments, songs, dancers, and styles of dance. Each dance carries with it the history and beliefs of that tribe – from the ancestors to the elders and the youths. I am specifically from the Vai tribe, located in Grand Cape Mount County. My people originated from the former Empire of Mali. The Vai people are descendants and close relatives of the Mande (Mendey, Madinki, Mandingo) people. Now, back in the Empire of Mali, we had these historian, story tellers who were also singers, poets and musicians who inspired the people and worked as advisors or wise counselors to kings and royal families. They were and are still called “Griot” or sometimes known as “Jeliya.”
When the Empire of Mali fell, these singers, musicians, story-tellers, poets, educators, and wise counselors drifted with different tribes, families, and nations throughout West Africa. This tradition and its essence still lives on in West Africa in many ways. The first two tribes to move into the rainforest of a spot on the western coast of Africa, that used to be known as the “Green Coast,” now known as Liberia, were the Vai and Bassa tribes. Both tribes carried on their Griot or musical traditions wherever they went. They also held up high traditions of education and the arts.
When the freed slaves arrived from America and the Caribbean Islands in the 1800s, these two tribes, Vai and Bassa, were the first to help them broker peace talks and settle. Because the Griots or Jeliyas of the old Mali Empire practiced musicianship or the arts as a spiritual portal to travel through to the spirit, ancestral or Divine world, our tribes in Liberia and throughout West Africa view and experience music, dance, and creativity as a deeply spiritual experience. So I grew up in this tradition from Robertsport City to my family’s village where my mother, Ciettu, would dance all the time. In his youth, my late father, Siafa Kemokai, was a dancer, and in his old age, he would out-sing everyone by sheer lung/diaphragm power. Ha ha ha… Even in her old age, with two bad knees and no stick to hold her up, my mother would start dancing when any of her children or grandchildren accomplished anything noteworthy. This is not unique to my dear, late mother. Throughout Liberia, no matter how hard poverty has stricken so many people, on any street corner or in any village, there are people singing, playing drums or recorded music and dancing everyday. Even when we worked on the farms, we were singing and dancing.
When I sing and dance, I feel like I travel deep into the womb of Consciousness or the Divine where I experience a subconscious, intuitive rebirth. It’s healing, grounding, transcending, and informative as it opens up my intuition to perceive and understand deeper things beyond this physical plane of existence.
What brought you to Austin, and what is your favorite thing about living in this city?
Ha! You might find this funny. I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina for over ten years. One day while I was playing my piano in the home office, my lady came in and said, “You should turn on the TV!” I told her you know I don’t watch TV when I’m playing music. She said, “They got live reggae music on there, and Bob Marley’s sons are playing!” I got excited and turn on the TV. Oh man, it was Ziggy, Stephen and Damian Marley throwing down heavy roots reggae on PBS.
While dancing around, I noticed the name of the TV show, “Austin City Limits.” Boom! I told my lady, I wanna move to that city one day. “It’s way out in Texas,” she said. So I asked her where in the world is Texas? She showed me on the map. I kept feeling this strong feeling about that city called Austin. About two months later, I went back to Liberia on a personal-healing, forgiveness, and reconnecting trip. While out in Liberia and going through a deep healing process from old wounds, I became very clear that when I returned to America, I should and must follow my heart in moving to Austin to make my musical dream a fat reality! After some long conversations with my lady, she was onboard.
When I got back to the US, I started making preparations, selling stuff, raising money, and saying goodbye to friends, families, and organizations where I worked as music director. I loaded up our old, silver Nissan Altima, and started hauling nyash all the way to Austin, Texas baby! Ha ha ha….
In short, my lady, my heart, music, Marley brothers, and Austin City Limits brought me here! You know it’s still my dream to have my reggae band play a killer roots reggae set on Austin City Limits! Ahh man, that’ll be something, and then I can tell them thanks for bringing me to Austin!
My little family and I have been living here now for about ten years, and my two favorite things about Austin are: first, the live music scene-venues with so many creative, talented people that I can play music with, and second, the gorgeous sceneries, parks, lakes, hills, and just all that nature! I enjoy going for runs, walks, riding my bike or just spending time with friends and my family in nature.
When it comes to songwriting, do you prefer to write solo or to collaborate with others?
That’s a great question. I was recently listening to a famous recording artist talk about his songwriting process, and it got me thinking about my own songwriting process. For the most part I have been writing lyrics and composing music by myself for years now. I have not had the experience of writing with others. I’m not sure how that process flows. In short, I write solo.
Outside of Roland & The Roots Riddim, what other creative projects do you have?
Roland & The Roots Riddim is my primary creative project. Outside of that I am producing singles and albums for other artists in my studio. I also enjoy providing professional vocal coaching services to beginning and experienced singers. As a motivational speaker and certified life coach, I also enjoy inspiring and coaching others with empowering mindset and skillsets. I am also currently writing my second book, which is volume two of my memoir trilogy. The first published volume is called, “SUNUMA – Discarded Baby Triumphs to Tell His Story.” Available at www.mistamuzic.com or on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million and other book stores.
Do you try to reflect the same messages from your motivational speaking and life coaching in your music and lyrics?
Yes indeed. My work as an author, speaker, singer, musician, and producer is deeply inspired, informed and driven by my life story, trials and triumphs, and the perspectives I’ve gained along the way. I see life, people, and the world through different lenses, and I draw on such insights to help me and others make sense of life. You know, one day I had this thought: that my adopted mother found me on the community dumpsite because I was screaming my little lungs out due to fire ants bites – I was using my voice. It saved me. And now through writing, speaking, singing, or producing music I am still using my voice to shine some light in people’s lives.
What is the best way for the Austin community to support you? Where can we buy your music or see a show?
I first want to express my gratitude to the Austin Music Foundation, the City of Austin, and the entire Austin community for helping to create such an artistically vibrant atmosphere that creatives like me and others can grow and thrive. Thank you!
Other ways the Austin community can support? As my band is picking up steam and filling the calendar with multiple dates, we’re currently looking to work with a booking agent and/or management agency. If an agent or agency in the community is interested, let’s please connect.
Please come see our shows! When I do a concert with my band, you can tell we love what we do. So, please find Roland & The Roots Riddim on social media! Like us, follow us, and we’ll keep you posted on all our upcoming concerts in and around Austin. We recently performed at the Houston Reggae Fest back in June, we just finished an exciting performance at Geraldine’s at Hotel Van Zandt, and we’re looking forward to a big performance at the San Antonio Reggae Fest on July 27th.
You can buy or download our music albums and singles directly from the website, www.mistamuzic.com. At a show, you can buy a signed copy of my book or the album. You can also listen to our music on all music streaming platforms, including Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes, iHeart Radio, Deezer, Amazon, Rhapsody, and many others. If you type in Roland Kemokai and also Roland & The Roots Riddim, you will be able to access all of mine and the band’s work.
What’s next for Roland & The Roots Riddim? What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?
We’ve got more original music cooking up! We’re jumping in the studio in August to start recording the next Single, and working on the next album in the Fall this year. We’ve also got dates coming up this Fall to perform at the Dallas and New Orleans Reggae Festivals. I have written longterm, three-five-year vision for the band, and some of the goals include releasing more exciting albums and singles, producing more music videos, having full-on management, successful tours in the US, Asia, Europe, West Africa, and an inspiring concert in my home country, Liberia! I’ll like to take the whole band back home to join with other artists there and put on great concerts to inspire my people…especially the young people. Those are few of the goals my team and I are working towards accomplishing in the next five years.
Again my sincere gratitude to you Emily and the Austin Music Foundation for the special honor of having me and my team as Artist of the Month and all your special support. From the bottom of my heart, Bi~eeka! In my dialect, Vai, that means Thank You!! One love!
Mista Muzic signing off….ha ha ha ha.