Rollo of Tropical Energy speaks up on injustice in the industry
Michael Nattoo – Staff Reporter
The year was 1974. Montego Bay, Jamaica, had a void to be filled on the entertainment scene, and Rollo and the Hurlock brothers knew this. That’s why when they joined forces, they would go on to become one of Western Jamaica’s more popular bands, cementing their names in the rich musical legacy associated with the West.
In the summer of 1976, the newly formed band journeyed to Negril, and describing a scene that’s not often seen these days, if any at all, Rollo, who became the band manager, explained that 17 bands – to include legendary names like Fab 5 and Third World, all branched off along a stretch of sandy beaches in the Negril area, and did what they did best – entertain. That day would become forever etched in the memories of all those who attended that unique gathering, and it was there that Rollo and company, being the only band from Western Jamaica at the time, decided to carry on that mantle for the West, just so until others could catch on. So began the journey of the band called Free Will, who later became known as Middle Earth, which ultimately became Tropical Energy.
Rollo revealed that the gathering of the 17 bands, while for the purpose of entertaining, was also a competition in and of itself, and to the then newly formed band’s credit, they placed second in that competition behind the legendary Third World. Nothing to be ashamed of there.
Free Will got a taste of the life they could have had with a full-time pursuit of band entertainment, and before they knew it, their reputation had preceded them. They were pretty soon booked by the Negril Beach Village hotel, today known as Hedonism, and for a creditable amount of time, they played and flourished there. The band was gaining valuable experience, and despite the challenges, they were handling business as they needed to. Not long after, they relocated to Montego Bay, all in the interest of keeping the blossoming band together. Rollo revealed that a number of the band members were youngsters, whose parents were never comfortable with them living too far from home. The move to St. James was expected to dissolve those concerns, and despite the band landing a gig at the Casa Montego Hotel – which went on for six months, they unfortunately broke up.
Though that tumultuous period wasn’t the only one experienced by Rollo and the band, he had always maintained his love for the music, and in a climate now that is not as conducive to local band talents in the hotel industry, the vet has his eyes set on a revival.
Today, after years of experience in the field as a vocalist and manager, Rollo’s revelation that he has since bought equipment for the purpose of re-energizing Middle Earth, has breathed life back into a dying industry, but has equally reacquainted him with many of the challenges that began around the band’s earlier years of prominence. While finances have always been a challenge for aspiring bands, Rollo has now found that almost systematically, local talents are being pushed out of the tourism band entertainment industry, in favour of international bands which are which play a version of reggae, that Rollo believes is not truly representative of the culture of reggae. This, he believes, is an injustice. That’s why Middle Earth’s revival stands, to Rollo, as a direct opposition to what he’s coining as the ‘Spanish Invasion’. What this is, he explains, is the proliferation of Spanish talents in the hotel industry, brought on primarily by the increasing number of Spanish-owned hotels, which are excluding local talents from making a reasonable living in an industry that owes its popularity to the ingenuity of local acts. “There is no authentic Jamaican reggae music being played in these hotels, so win or lose, I’m here to advocate for that – for authentic reggae music to be played for our tourists. What is happening now is just a hustling of the tourism dollars from tourists, and it’s not right.”
The passionate Rollo explained that musicians today, local musicians in fact, are getting pennies for their worth, and the first step to addressing the ‘Spanish Invasion’ is to ensure that we properly pay our musicians, so they can better take care of their families, and take the music business more seriously.
With Tropical Energy in full swing, Rollo aims to inject authenticity back into the local entertainment industry, and he seems poised to do just that.