Days after the end of a three-week-long European tour, we spoke with Roger Lewis, co-founder of the iconic band Inner Circle. With a huge collection of beloved reggae tunes such as “Bad Boys” and “Sweat (A La La La La Long)” behind them, we spoke with Roger regarding the band’s upcoming west coast tour, new music, preserving traditional reggae, and what keeps the band inspired after nearly fifty years together.
Inside Inner Circle with Roger Lewis…
Since their formation in 1968, Inner Circle has performed alongside legendary reggae artists such as Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker and many others. Now considered reggae icons in their own right, Inner Circle continues to display the mastery of their craft while passing on their knowledge to today’s rising stars.
Starting at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on August 14th, Inner Circle will kick off a short string of west coast performances that they’re calling the One Love Reggae Revolution tour. The tour, which ends on August 23rd, will include stops in Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon, Canada, and Washington. Several highlights include select dates with Gonzo of Tribal Seeds, and a performance at Los Angeles’ famed Hollywood Bowl for a celebration of Bob Marley’s 70th birthday alongside Ziggy Marley, Stephen “Ragga” Marley, The Skatalites, and others. When asked why the tour is so brief, Lewis said:
“I really wish [the tour] would not be so little, but since we are not Slightly Stoopid or Rebelution, or SOJA, we can only make it little. The baton has been passed to these new reggae soldiers and they are doing very well.”
Lewis then went on to point out the importance of mentorship, and passing on knowledge to these younger artists.
“Like the old Chinese proverb says, ‘If you want to know what’s going on down the road, ask a man who is coming from down there and he can tell you.’ And after that you can make your assessment of what the vibe and the climate is. Everything is vibes and climate. In telling of the past, you may not feel what the climate was… I can tell you about Bob Marley, but you had to be there to feel the climate and the electricity. However you can still feel the echo of it today. Now Inner Circle is vibing with the Kabaka Pyramids and the Jesse Royals and the Bambaatas, you know the youths coming up. We learn and they learn. They like to hear some of the old vibe of where Jamaica came from and where reggae music comes from.”
As much as the band admires some of these new reggae artists, they also maintain a deep appreciation and love for traditional reggae. In 2012, they started a “Save the Reggae Music” campaign, which aimed to promote traditional reggae music over the increasingly American influenced music that was coming out of Jamaica.
“We want to keep the same vibe of the original founders of reggae. [Some of the new music] they call reggae but it’s not really reggae. Bring back the reggae with the bass line, bring back the reggae from when we were youths. We used to hear a song with a bass line and immediately know what song it is. [Reggae] originated from boogie woogie and African music, and we want to keep that vibe in it instead of making it sound like funk or something else and yet still try to call it reggae.”
Spreading wisdom is something the band prioritizes highly. Roger Lewis and the rest of Inner Circle are not only present minded in current affairs, but they’re also opinionated, and Lewis cites that as a reason as to why the band continues to make music.
“People who don’t think we have something to say are nuts,” says Lewis. “We’re always thinking about something. I’m here thinking about climate change, I’m thinking abut love, and how we can make the world better instead of dropping bombs and blowing up everybody.”
The groups desire to deliver messages can be heard in person and seen in their work, most recently in the music video for their release “Tenement Yard (News Carryin’ Dread),” a re-make of their late lead singer Jacob Miller‘s hit “Tenement Yard” featuring the young Jamaican artist Chronixx. The video appears to encourage people to step away from the virtual world and enjoy the beauty of life. When asked if the band intended to spread an anti-technology message, Lewis said that the band isn’t against the use of technology, but instead wanted to preach the importance of moderation.
“The phone is like a part of your body now, like your hand or your face. Everything is in the phone. Music, information, communication, love letters. Everything is in the phone. Basically everything that man overdoes is never good. Too much food, too much rum, too much drugs. When people do too much, it leaves no time for them to do things that are on a more human to human or person to person level. We originally came to earth with that communication and we can’t lose it.”
Inner Circle has been spreading messages of peace, love, and politics on a consistent basis since 1968. Many bands of the time have since disbanded or stopped performing for various reasons, some being by choice and others being of circumstance. When asked what keeps the band inspired to keep playing music after forty-seven years together, Lewis said:
“My personal opinion about bands is that when you don’t have transient people, they tend to stick together longer and fight harder. And it becomes second nature to keep going for the love of it. When you have a core that’s there for thirty or forty years, you have a family. Everybody can congregate at the same place, eat at the same place, vibe at the same place, and consequently you have this ruling power with the same vision and the same vibe, like The Four Tops or whatever, and that’s the same thing like us. We’ve been doing this thing for so long, since the late sixties and early seventies, that we know how to walk on a stage and strike up and deliver our thing. And the reason for that also is that there’s still that passion in what we do. Our delivery is still with passion. We still want to rock the house and we still want to be included in the vibe.”
Inner Circle is still in the vibe, as they are set to premiere the music video for their newest release “We The People (featuring Kabaka Pyramid)” this week. The song is available for download on iTunes now, and is currently number two on the iTunes reggae Hot Tracks list, so be sure to catch up on all the latest from Inner Circle before you experience the climate of their live shows.
Watch: Inner Circle- “Tenement Yard (News Carryin’ Dread)”