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Rootz Underground encourages students to REAP

Published:Sunday | April 21, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Rootz Underground lead singer Stephen Newland and the REAP team in Little London, Westmoreland. - Contributed
Students put a tree into the soil under the supervision of adults involved in REAP.
Rootz Underground

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Rootz Underground band has been consistently advocating agriculture through its music, from the track Farming on its 2008 debut album Movement through to last year's Rootz Garden concert series at Hope Gardens, St Andrew.

The opening event in the series on Saturday, February 4, featured Toots and the Maytals, Ra Deal, Dubtonic Kru, Prophecy, Iba Mahr and Droop Lion. The entire series was linked to the band's Rootz Releaf project, which included a school tree-planting programme.

There was also a project in which Rootz Underground, in conjunction with the Costa Rica-based La Reserva Forest Foundation, encouraged the band's fans worldwide to plant trees, take pictures of them, and do the required tags for Global Positioning System visibility.

However, the latest phase of their ongoing project to have persons put down literal roots is all home based and does not involve the participation of those professionally involved in the business of music.

The REAP - Releaf Environmental Awareness Programme, done in conjunction with LASCO - was started in primary and all-age schools islandwide last October and comes to full fruition on May 14 with an awards ceremony.

Rootz Underground lead singer Stephen Newland said the students were encouraged to plant fruit and timber trees, among them acacia, mahogany, cherry and mango. Each institution was asked to plant a minimum of 50 trees, as well as do an anti-litter drive and clean-up. In addition, there was recycling and compounding for a vegetable and flower garden, as well as a drive for energy conservation and usage.

In addition, there is a talent component for 'Jamaica, Land of Wood and Water, 50 Years and Beyond'.


At a conservative estimate, Newland said, "We have cleaned up about 50,000 plastic bottles. This is not only in schools, as they went out into the community as well. So they cleaned up the school and had these bags and cleaned up the community."

Indicating the spread of schools and communities that REAP has reached, Newland named Albert Town in Trelawny, Grange Hill in Westmoreland, Freeman's Hall in Hanover, White Marl in St Catherine and Fellowship in Portland among them.

Even as they seek the Ministry of Education's endorsement, the band hopes to spread the REAP project "to all the schools next year". This would mean a shift in how it is exe-cuted. Newland said, as instead of the band's members visiting the institutions personally, the media would be used as the point of contact.

Newland visited over half of the schools himself, this in addition to performances and working on the group's upcoming album.

To manage this, Newland said, for the band members it was a matter of "sleeping less and thinking more. You just have to plan, set the goals and plan towards it". Plus, he said, "the kids give you the energy and will".

Giving it up is not an option. "This is one of the things I commit to as a musician. After 13 years of Rootz Underground, we do not take it for granted," Newland said, pointing out that many times people take things from Jamaica and do not give back.

"It was global warming, now it's climate change. The seasons have changed," he said, emphasising the need for action now.

The band was scheduled to leave Jamaica last week to tour the United States (US) with the band Souljah. Rootz Underground played alongside them late last year and said teaming up with overseas performers "is a method that Jamaican musicians have to employ". And he makes it clear that it is not a case of changing the band's sound, as some persons do in an effort to cross over into an overseas market.

"They are seeking to cross over, but they are not trying to cross over to the market that loves Jamaican music," Newland said.

So the band pushes its touring efforts "in an effort to not just stay on top of our world of live underground music, but to reach out to the demographic that doesn't know but will love us".

Touring with a band like Souljah benefits not only Rootz Underground but Souljah as well, as Newland said "we bring credibility, we bring our fans with us".

However, he said, out of all the people who would like to tour with Souljah "we are happy to be chosen".

Shortly after that stint ends, Rootz Underground will return to North America to do a tour as headline artistes, going from California in the US to Vancouver in Canada.

Also in the mix is their upcoming full-length Return of the Righteous studio set.

Whether in the studio or on the stage, Newland said the business of farming and taking care of nature will be a part of it.

"Everything we want to do now we want to involve the environment. It is everybody's business," Newland said.