BY: JELANI GRANT
At four years old, Ricky Persaud Jr. started taking music classes at Music Together in New Jersey. At the age of eight, he would go with his brother Nicholas, who was five, to his weekly guitar lessons where Ricky would study his brother’s homework and taught himself how to play the guitar. By ten, Ricky was performing Bob Marley on the guitar and at the age of eleven, Ricky started taking bass lessons at the Newark School of the Arts, along with drums. Still drawn to the guitar, Ricky decided to take guitar lessons when he was twelve. At fourteen, Ricky discovered Billy Joel and taught himself how to play the harmonica and keyboards. Shortly after, Ricky started taking piano lessons in school. He first performed in public with his own band at fourteen, the same year he released his first album. Now a multi-instrumentalist, Persaud still specializes in vocals and guitar.
His 4th album, Optimistic Bliss, made it onto the 60th Grammy Awards’ For Your Consideration first round ballot. Persaud said he “felt extremely proud to make it onto the FYC first round ballot. I was literally jumping for joy when I heard I landed a spot in the Best Pop Vocal category. To be considered alongside people like Katy Perry, One Direction, and Pentatonix really made me feel like I had entered a different stratosphere.”
He said he became inspired to pursue music once he, “realized how powerful music was. Music moves through us all and it makes us feel all kinds of different ways. Seeing people like John Lennon and Bob Marley who created music with important messages really made me want to jump on the band-wagon and do the same. I believe music speaks louder than words, and I believe I can make a difference with the music I put out into the world.”
As a demonstration of his own skills, Persaud created his last two albums using his own vocals exclusively and playing all of the instruments himself. “I chose to play all the instruments on Welcome To My World and my newest release Optimistic Bliss because I felt the need to do it. It is somewhat hard to explain but I felt that I could do a better job in expressing the feeling and grooves in my own songs then hiring someone else to do it.” Though Persaud says he doesn’t intend to only rely on his own instruments and voice, he hopes he can find professional musicians who can match his sound for future projects.
“To this day, I still believe that reggae music is such an underrated genre compared to jazz and rock music. I also feel a lot of people in America somewhat misjudge reggae music; thinking that genre is only dedicated to smoking marijuana,” Persaud told Toronto Caribbean Newspaper.
For example, on one occasion, he wanted to perform a Bob Marley song for an organization. However, they would not allow him to perform on the basis that Bob Marley was known for smoking marijuana and they did not think it was appropriate for their event. “In reality reggae music means much more than that. It is such a serious art form for an artist to talk about the injustices in our world, along with the importance of spreading love, peace and happiness…hopefully, reggae music would one day be as well received as jazz and rock music,” he said.
Despite negative incidents like this, Persaud said he stays persistent with the message of unity in his music. “The world we live in today is surely not the brightest place, but I hope that my music could lighten up and make people think more positively about themselves and the world around them,” he said.
Persaud is on a full four-year scholarship at Berklee College Of Music where he said he has already learned so much more about Jamaican styles of music. He said during his search for colleges, he found himself frustrated because a number of music programs in the United States focused on classical or jazz music. “There is really no other school that seriously teaches the styles and flavours of Jamaican music like Berklee does,” he said.
Persaud is planning the release of his 5th studio album, titled Love, Peace, and Unity in the summer of 2018. He and his band Crossroads have a 2018 summer tour scheduled to promote Optimistic Bliss and Love, Peace, and Unity. Though the tour does not include any Toronto shows, Persaud said he has, “family in Canada and I would absolutely love to perform there.”