Charles Lazarus Speaks

Apart from his 6’4” brawn, that oozes unadulterated, sex appeal, this may be the reason so many women think this Jamaican guitarist and talent on legs, is the ‘McSteamy’ of live performance.

On stage, he communicates the urgency of his message to the world by bending a few pentatonic strings on his Fender Stratocaster.

Rootz Underground

Rootz Underground...first a family, then a band

Off stage, the self taught guitarist speaks in an equally lyrical tongue with a remarkable probity that liken him to a spokesperson for a de facto, underground, musical cabal.

The Rootz Underground Movement lead guitar-slinger, says, his business is a “nasty” one.

“If it weren’t for the music, I wouldn’t be in it… I often feel bad for the people who are in the industry and aren’t musicians,” he adds.

Lazarus, who took hold of his first guitar at nineteen years old and has since found his passion, points to the ‘eat or be eaten’ nature of the fraternity he loves as one of the main reasons some of the most talented musicians, artistes, and bands do not make it past a one- hit-wonder.

“It takes a lot more than lyrics and tunes to keep it together,” he advises.

In a manner akin to that of a protégé of the Chomsky linguistic school, the Campion College alumnus relays the story of his musical journey, ensuring his experience is not interpreted as the experience. As though they are ripped straight from his autodidactic book of life, his views about enriching one’s life expectancy in the vicissitudes of Jamaica’s music landscape are as riveting as they are passionate.

“It requires a ridiculous energy, thirst, hunger to create… and a vision, with a sharing of versions of this vision by every member in the band….this is not a luck thing,” he reveals. He adds, musicians, in order to be counted among the survivors, must be able to maintain their “childish fascination and keep feeding that fire.”

In explaining the mechanics of this yen to project a fire for creativity, and score points in igniting the interest of the audience, he opens the portals to what he thinks his band, Rootz Underground Movement, subscribes.

“We have an energy that can never get stale… At every show, floating over our heads is a sea of consciousness … and everyone who has visited this space will never forget it.” He further cites that many who “tap into this consciousness” often employ their experience as a launch-pad to invoke their own creative juices, and incorporate that into their own art. “When we perform, it’s not just a show, it’s a sharing.”

It seems most fans agree. By virtue of this positive energy attendant to each Rootz Underground show, the six-man band continues to lure tens of thousands of believers from all walks of life.

“The more I am a musician the easier it is to get to this place, to access this spiritual dimension,” he says. Lazarus thinks many musicians who call upon drugs to take them to the levels that help to unearth their potentials, will often end up losing their artistic acclaim. “I think drugs block this consciousness and fast living, brought about by fast success can also be a distraction,” he opines.

Lazarus is confident his band, a noteworthy pioneer of the underground musical revolution, will continue to maintain its position and fame through a unique recipe that keeps the unit going.

“Our friendship will sustain us,” he declares. “…Jeffrey’s and Steve’s moms are best friends… Jeffrey and I knew each other from we were eleven… Colin was in rehearsal with us one day, we didn’t have a bass guitarist … he became inspired and now he is part of a successful, touring, Reggae band.”

He speaks of this consolidated vision among band members with ebullience and a pungent dose of pride.

“We know we need each other and I don’t know that I’d be in any other band if Rootz Underground did not take off… I’ve heard Steve do things with different bands, but it doesn’t sound the same, it doesn’t feel the same. People sometimes ask, ‘so di band still friends?’ and when we tell them yes, they would say, ‘jus wait, you guys soon start have problems wid one another’.”

Charles Lazarus

Charles Lazarus

Although Lazarus agrees the cohesiveness of the relationships between band members is sometimes tested, he quickly highlights the ways in which this friendship serves as a reliable antidote to issues that would otherwise grow into problems.

“Everything is difficult and challenging on some level, but it helps that when you are friends, you can tell each other how you feel about certain things, how what they do affects you…we tease each other a lot because that is how we say ‘I love you’.”

Lazarus, who, with Rootz Underground’s rhythm guitarist, Jeffrey Moss-Solomon, formed his first band at twenty years old thinks the rapport and candid exchange among band members is accompanied by a deep-seated sense of responsibility.

“Our futures are intertwined, and intuitively we are on the same path… the band is first a personal thing, then it’s a group thing, and ultimately, a projected thing.”

Rootz Underground Movement – which is currently touring California, one of the strongest markets for Reggae music in the world – projects a message endemic within the authentic Reggae edict. That of living the change one desires to see in the world. “…I think the accumulative message that we would most like to project is that of being sincere to your own passions and creativity…that’s what we are doing and it’s the most honest thing we can project.”

While the guitarist supports February’s Reggae Month, citing the move as a vehicle to “raise awareness” of the music, he thinks each time the government’s contribution to the industry is called into account, it is found wanting. “I think the government needs to wake up…they have squandered and sold out most of our natural resources…Reggae music is the only one that rejuvenates itself.” That is primarily the reason Lazarus is a vocal cheerleader of National Hero status for legendary, Reggae torchbearer, Bob Marley. “Come on, if he’s not a hero, who is?…I can’t think of anyone, as a single person, who has done more for Jamaica and Jamaica’s image, whether he meant to or not,” he says, as though the debate is asinine.

And in between experimenting with chords on his new acoustic guitar, Lazarus recounts one of his most memorable performances yet. “While everywhere there’s a new crowd and a different energy…our Welcome to Jamrock performance in December was amazing.” Lazarus says one of the difficulties his band faces is that many perceive their act to be a gimmick, by a “bunch of up-town kids.” “But at this show, we really show dem weh wi deh pon,” he says, with a chuckle. He says this particular performance was a landmark for the band as Rootz Underground was the only one in the line-up of artistes with no album previously released. “We made our name exclusively on the strength of our live show…it’s not so much what you’ve done, but what everybody knows you’ve done,” he cites. The band released its debut album, MOVEMENT, with positive reviews, on 4th March.

“My wildest dream is to headline the Roskilde music festival in Copenhagen…I remember my first time there…the Danish girls treated Jamaicans like kings…and based on that memory, I would definitely like to go back to perform.” The famous, Orange Stage, of the Nordic summer festival, has been graced by icons from Elvis to Bob, and U2 to Aerosmith.

“We pray before every show…if, for some reason we can’t pray together as a group, internally, we are all doing it before we go on stage.” The inclusion of God in all their “works” is a ritual for the Rootz Underground team of talent. Lazarus says he does not know to what religion he subscribes anymore. There are members in his band who are Rastafarians and are very dedicated to practicing their beliefs. As a result, Lazarus thinks, if he should even suggest that he is on that level, he would not only misrepresent the Rastafarian teachings, but would also “cheapen and dilute” the beliefs of those who are loyal followers. He adds that there are things that Haile Selassie said that he is yet to fully understand. “I don’t think any one religion is right all the time…I grew up Catholic and there were some teachings I just knew did not sound right at all.”

Although he grew up with musical models in his own family– his uncle, Afief Lazarus, for example, was a member of one of the islands earliest alternative bands, Tomorrow’s Children – he admits this had little impact on his own interest in the business. In fact, Lazarus, who holds an undergraduate degree in International Business and Marketing from Florida International University, had his career path charted in the farming and export business, until “Karma” led him to what he thinks he was put on earth to do. And throughout the meanderings of his musical journey, he makes copious notes of musicians who impacted his style the most.

“I’m a massive fan of Richie Haughton. Cat Core is the toughest…I remember at one Sumfest where Third World closed the show…they tore up the stage…they are one of the most talented bands, individually and collectively…Cat Core exuded a certain arrogance over his instrument…that is the kind of energy I want to put out.

“I went to a Burning Spear show in St. Ann years ago… I never forget it… I was blown away … for the first time, I experienced being in a trance.” He also lists Bob Marley among his musical role models, but says it is almost cliché to expound on the extent to which Marley’s influence helped to define his musical style.

And as to matters of the heart, Charles has his own rules, each laced with philosophical rumination.

“Sexy is not a colour she wears or something that she puts on…sexy is an energy that manifests itself differently in different women…sexy lies in her passion…to do supp’m, she has to be into supp’m, whether it be designing, fitness…she shouldn’t be like a sheep…and she must have that independence and desire to pursue her passion,” he says, as though it is law.

“If I should publish my track record, you would see that I don’t have a type,” he reveals, and cannot help a two minute snicker. “As long as she has this kind of energy, passion, whether she’s black, Chinese, or overweight….she’s the one who’ll interest me.”

As though he has been meticulously developing this theory for years, he shares his idea of beauty, slowly emphasizing each word that counts the most in his definition.

“A beautiful woman is one who sheds all petty concerns and trivial matters and lives her purpose,” he says, with an eloquence that tempts you to take his view as gospel. “What fascinates me most about a woman is her femininity…I like when she is girly…I can just get lost in her smell for a while,” he quips.

Lazarus is not afraid of the ‘L’ word, and believes in the virtues of a committed relationship that speaks to an intimacy that transcends bedroom carryings on. “Love is,” he pauses, “making someone happy even if it doesn’t include you.”

“I am drawn to women who I connect with spiritually…however many lifetimes it may take, if I have unfinished spiritual business with her…I will somehow reconnect with her.”

“This connection is tangible….it’s the same connection I get when I make love with her…it’s so much more than what my hands, or other body parts are doing…it’s this message we send to each other that takes us to this level…and that is what a relationship, love is about.”

He says this connection has similarities with the way he performs and what he projects when he strikes the right chords on stage. “This is where the danger lies, in Reggae,” he warns. “I think this is where the groupie phenomenon comes from…women in the audience get this intimate connection with us…and these are smart women, with depth…women who are interesting, and share the same headspace with you.”

Lazarus says in these instances, he may be a “danger to himself” and has coined his own strategy to handle occasions with fans that may later incriminate him. “I high-tail it out of there,” he admits, chuckling incessantly.

When he must interact with fans, predominantly the female population that follows Rootz Underground Movement, he has another strategy.

“I handle them in a clinically, safe way,” he says, this time, laughing aloud. “The online community, like Facebook and MySpace, are dangerous for us … we meet a lot of girls who are happy to hang out with the band … then they go to my profile on MySpace and leave suggestive notes … even when yuh neva do nutten… this gets people in serious trouble.

“What I detest,” he reveals “is a woman who deliberately makes herself skinny… I find this unattractive and kinda gross.

“My ideal date would have to include music… My ultimate party is to take her to the Winter Music Conference in Miami…the best party on earth…I never miss it.”

The charismatic musician lost both his parents over a decade ago in a motor vehicle accident, but refers to their influence in his life as though they are still with him.

“My father always said I should always leave a woman smiling – whether it be the security guard, the receptionist, or my friend’s mother – but what bothers me is that this is misconstrued. People often interpret this as flirting and I don’t like that there is a perception that I am promiscuous.”

There isn’t an ounce of fat to be seen on Charles’s muscle-riddled body; fitness is not only a part of his lifestyle, it feeds his creativity. Consequently, his favourite hobby, kite-surfing, is a serious element on this fitness agenda. A seeker of the adrenaline in any adventure, Charles, chases waves and winds world-over – from Venezuela where he revels in the renowned Margarita, kite-boarding winds, and the Columbia River Gorge for the Chinook, summer winds, to Spain’s Tarifa, also known as the wind capital of the world and a kite surfer’s paradise.

“I would love to have lunch with Laird Hamilton, wind surfer…over a sandwich at a local shop on a beach near where he surfs…I’d ask him what his training programme was like because he’s one of the fittest men, a huge kite boarder…”

The savvy guitarist owns a library with as wide a collection as the tunes on his iPod; a historic collection that definitely provokes your jealousy. With an archive of books as old as the three hundred year old, Great House he currently calls home in Runaway Bay, St. Ann, Charles boasts a personal piece of Jamaica’s rich and vibrant history.

He is a JK Rowling fan and is one of those who pre-orders the latest edition of Harry Potter.

“I love creative fantasy… like Lord of the Rings … books that remind me of the great imagination of the child.” He names Richard Adams and Wilbur Smith among his favourite authors.

He believes the influence of his mother, who was an eccentric, and an avid student of Eastern philosophy shaped the way he views life in general.

“I think the way they raised me is in keeping with how I live today. My best quality is empathy. I am terrible at holding grudges. I look at the circumstances that led someone to pick my pocket.”

Lazarus sprinkles the prudence to be gleaned from kismet in all his philosophies, and lives his belief in the universe and its bizarre sense of humour.

“I think intuition is the voice through which God speaks to us, and I try to develop that relationship … with my own voice … and try to follow it, even when I don’t like what it’s saying.”

As for his vision for his band: “Rootz underground is a movement, we want to champion the alternate rock, off beat, out-of-box scene…”

Rootz Underground Movement hosts a trendy, rootsy website characteristic of the movement, and is an information portal for all things Rootz Underground at www.rootzunderground.com.

     

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