Born in Liberia, West Africa, Roland was discarded on a dump-pile as a 3-month old baby. He struggled through poverty, abuses, and a violent civil war while utilizing remarkable gifts of strength, perseverance, and his music to survive. Roland Kemokai, a.k.a. Mister Muzic, is an Austin-based Liberian singer/songwriter, composer, pianist, guitarist, bassist, and lead-singer for a popular Austin reggae band, Roland & The Roots Riddim. Drawing on his African roots and his vast musical exposure in the USA including being a former award-winning, syndicated radio DJ, Roland has crafted a unique sound and musicianship that reflects an upbeat, thoughtful, and positive artistry. Roland’s inspiring musical artistry is displayed in his brand new single, Rainbow World, available on Amazon, CDBaby, iTunes, ReverbNation, Rhapsody, Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, etc.
Hello Roland! You have one incredible story! Could you tell us about the writing of your book Sunuma? How long were you working on the book before its publication?
Thank you! It’s taken me many years on a long road of emotional turmoil to finally have the courage to share my story through my book, Sunuma, and through my music. The book’s title, “Sunuma,” comes from Vai – my Liberian dialect – and it means “on the dump-pile.” At 3-month old I was discovered on the community dump-pile where my biological parents discarded me. An elderly lady, Ciettu, strolling by the dump-pile heard a baby screaming from the trash heap. When she opened the moving box, she discovered a baby, me, covered in fire ants and screaming. She rescued me, and my life-long journey of self-discovery and self-determination began. Even though many people labeled me the “dump-pile baby” – driving me to multiple suicidal attempts before my 16th birthday, but I never give-up on myself. With my music healing me and keeping my heart opened I decided to tell my story in order to inspire others to never give-up on themselves. I worked on the book for about nine months before publication. Nine intense months! I feel emotionally free on so many levels to write the next two books in this memoir trilogy, and of course continue to make inspiring music.
What is it like living in Austin, Texas and working so close to the Colorado River?
This big smile on my face shows that life in Austin is pure heaven for a creative person like me. The live music scene provides such a powerful outlet where I get to perform original compositions and some covers with my reggae band, Roland & The Roots Riddim. Being an oasis in Texas, Austin has so much cultural diversity, beautiful nature sceneries, amazing parks, and talented musicians from diverse backgrounds. This makes me feel so much at home, and it has been the perfect atmosphere where I have found the freedom to give full expression to my artistic abilities. I love Austin!
What was it like growing up in Liberia? What was the music scene of your hometown in Liberia like?
Growing up in Liberia is what my Liberian people would call “bitter-sweet.” Liberia is a beautiful country with so many gifted and fun-loving people, but the atrocities of the civil war, mass starvation, poverty, and the recent horrors of Ebola contribute to the bitter or sad aspects of living or growing-up in Liberia. We used to say “sometimes your problems can make you cry or they can make you laugh.” So, in my home town and village many of us turned to singing and dancing as a way of dealing with the hardship.
Using primitive African instruments we played music for dancing villagers under the moonlight. I mostly grew-up during the wartime in Liberia with bullets or mortars blast constantly ripping the fabrics of life. Momentary cease-fires provided the space in time for us to make and enjoy music. I learned to make my own instruments and play. In the midst of so much chaos my village guitar, made of two frets and three strings, became my peaceful escape. Later on when I moved to the capitol city, Monrovia, then I became exposed to a much larger music scene. They had radio stations all over the town playing imported music from America, Jamaica and Africa. The American music was mostly hip-hop, R&B, classic country, and soul music. They even had a radio show called “Oldies but Goodies.” Ha! This show used to play so many classics from the USA. I enjoyed listening to music from the USA very much.
But the one that turned my world inside out was Jamaican reggae music from Bob Marley, Joseph Hill with Culture, Gregory Isaacs, and Dennis Brown. One day I was on my way to the community well to draw some water when I first heard the sounds of Bob Marley coming from the ganja smoking shack near my home. He was singing Redemption Song, and the words were so powerful that I stopped walking just to hear what the man was singing.
His words touched me so much that I started thinking about my life. The ganja smoking men continued to play more of his songs, and now the music drew me in – it sounded a little bit like our tribal music – so I was hooked forever. Soon I discovered other Jamaican artists like Joseph Hill and Burning Spear. I had a spiritual moment every time I listened to them. The rambunctious city of Monrovia – under warlord Charles Taylor’s control – had dance clubs all over the place. The rebel soldiers used to walk around with boom-boxes on their shoulders blasting music from Lucky Dube of South Africa and Alpha Blondy from Ivory Coast.
Those artists’ messages of social justice and elevated consciousness really touched my life.
What inspired you to write and record the song that has been released as your latest single (‘Rainbow World’)? You regularly perform with other songwriters and musicians in Austin, correct?
Yes indeed I am regularly performing with other songwriters and musicians here in Austin. It’s so much fun to vibe with other creative souls. And these amazing human beings come from such broad social, spiritual and geographical backgrounds. This type of creative flow really reveals our universal oneness or our common humanity. It’s so beautiful and amazing to experience – it’s like watching in detail the beautiful color spectrum of the rainbow.
Through my own journey of forgiveness and conscious awakening with deep musical experiences, I have come to see that all of humanity is just one body of consciousness, and that the different skin colors are simply reflections of one beautiful rainbow. Letting our skin colors divide us is delusional and destructive. Ignorance is the greatest threat to us embracing our common humanity. So, I wrote this song to honor the beauty of our essence – I composed and arranged the music in a way that anyone who hears it will feel good and be reminded that they’re simply beautiful, and so I called it Rainbow World!
Could you tell us about some of your favorite musicians and writers? Why do these particular people inspire you to create?
As I mentioned, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Joseph Hill, Alpha Blondy, and Lucky Dube are some of the great musicians and writers who influenced me. Others include Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Lauryn Hill and a long list of others. These writers and performers had to over-come so much in their lives, and their deep sincerity or artistic honesty shines through their songs. Their works epitomize what great songs really are – meaningful lyrics mixed with beautiful music. As a singer/songwriter, this is my grand aspiration. I want to write, play or perform sweet, beautiful music that makes people feel good, and to sing meaningful lyrics with inspiring messages for everyone who hears my voice.
What does 2015 hold in store for Roland Kemokai?
Oh yes, I am excited about 2015! I have a feeling this is going to be a great year for all of us. I already started writing my goals for 2015 in December 2014, so I know exactly some dreams I’d like to live in 2015. Ha ha ha ha!
I intend to finish writing book two of my memoir trilogy, Sunuma, do more inspiring speaking engagements, produce and publish more singles and then an album, hopefully get signed with some label, and continue to play great music with my band, Roland & The Roots Riddim, in Austin and other cities in the USA. Part of my dream is to have my band travel to Liberia to perform and inspire the young people! Hey, you never know what’s possible, right?
Thank you so much for this opportunity, and I look forward to connecting with you again soon!
Connect With Roland Kemokai:
Sound Cloud: https://soundcloud.com/roland-b-kemokai