Life is for Living
Sgt. Remo, born Sergio Ortiz, is a native of Juarez, Mexico. He is a Mexican-American reggae singer known throughout the U.S. and Latin America for his powerful music and energetic performances. He began performing in the early 2000s. The unlikely reggae artist emerged on the international reggae scene in 2012 with the debut EP Life is for Living, released on his label Jah Yutes Entertainment (JYE).
In 2014, Sgt Remo released the album Give Thanks for Life and achieved his first international underground hit, Rastafari Way. The album was recognized by New York’s AIRM’s Top 30 Reggae Albums of 2014 and by Denmark’s Reggae Moods’ Top 15 Roots & Culture Albums of the Year.
Sgt. Remo is coming off a spectacular 2022, which saw the release of his second album Jah Neva Leave featuring reggae greats Lutan Fyah, Ranking Joe, and Chezidek.
Sgt. Remo performed a demanding schedule of shows in 2022, including an 11-date Mexico tour and performances at the Dallas Reggae Festival, Reggae on the Guadalupe Festival, Word, Sound & Power Festival (Minneapolis), and the San Antonio Coffee Festival.
2023 is already heating up with performances at Austin Reggae Festival (April 2023), future performances at Houston Reggae Festival (Aug. 2023), and a 10+ date Mexico Tour.
Sgt. Remo is also the mastermind behind King Remo Sound System, San Antonio’s first custom sound system. The sound system is one of only a few in the Southwest and has helped to bring awareness to sound system culture by showcasing the different elements of the culture. “To me, the sound system is just an extension of reggae. Hip-hop encompasses MCing, Djing, break dancing, and graffiti. Reggae has the selector, the DJ, the sound system, the band, Rastafari culture, and all the forms of art associated with it. We’re not doing anything new; we’re just presenting reggae in its full form, with a big bad sound system.”
Sgt. Remo INTERVIEW
IRIE. Take us back to your roots. How did you first get introduced to reggae music?
SGT. REMO. A high school friend of mine introduced me to dancehall music in the early 90s. I listened to a lot of hip-hop during that time, but when I heard dancehall music, it just took over my life. If you think back to the early 90s, west-coast hip-hop was just getting big, and some of the music was pretty raw and violent. That violence started to spill over into the streets. Growing up poor, I saw a lot of my school friends joining gangs and the life that came with it. I realized I didn’t want to go that route.
I started listening to a lot more dancehall. At that time, I didn’t know roots reggae music yet. But as I learned more about the genre, I realized there was much more to reggae than just dancehall. I started to understand that music could talk about your struggles, aspirations, and spirituality. And that really drew me in even more.
IRIE. Who are some of your musical influences that helped shape your music style?
SGT. REMO. The artists that inspired me early on were DJs like Buju, Supercat, Shabba, Barrington Levy, and many others from that era. A few years later, I got into roots and culture. Of course, Bob Marley, but many others like Burning Spear, Culture, and Vaugh Benjamin also had a big influence. I must include General Smiley in that list because he was my mentor for many years. He taught me how to perform in front of a crowd and showed me that music is a serious business. Those are some of my musical teachers to this day.
IRIE. How would you describe your sound?
SGT. REMO. I can chat lyrics like Ranking Joe or sing a melody like Burning Spear. My sound is unique because of my voice. I don’t sound like anyone else. But my style varies with every song. I have never wanted to be pigeonholed into any one style, so I constantly challenge myself to sing on different riddims and in different styles. When I first started recording songs, they were mostly dancehall. My style was all about lyrics and flow, style and pattern. I had always wanted to sing melodies, but in the past, I wasn’t very good. Today, I feel comfortable singing and have experimented in my songs with melodies more. When you listen to my music, you can hear anything from dancehall to heavy roots.
One consistent thing is the message. Regardless of the style you hear, most of my music can play in front of your children or your mom.
IRIE. Why the name Sgt. Remo? Is there a special meaning behind it?
SGT. REMO. I always get this question. The name came in two parts. Remo was given to me by my friend Pablo in the Navy. We used to stay in the barracks, and there were a bunch of us that used to hang out. I was 21 or 22, while most of the others were 18 or 19. Pablo said I reminded him of some movie character named Remo because I was older, and everyone always came around to talk to me, hahaha. It was funny to me because I was just a couple of years older than them, but like all good nicknames, it stuck, and everyone called me Remo.
A few years later, I moved to New Mexico. Don Martin, owner/operator of Brotherhood Sound System, let me perform a few songs during their monthly sessions at Burt’s Tiki Lounge in Albuquerque. He told me a few times my stage name needed to be longer, and one day, without any warning, he introduced me as Sgt. Remo, and that was it. He knew I was in the Navy, so I guess he assumed I was a Sergeant. Ever since that day, I’ve been known as Sgt. Remo.
IRIE. Can you take us through your creative process when producing a new song?
SGT. REMO. The way I write today is much different than in the past. I used to write lyrics first, then fit them to a riddim. But somewhere along the way, I started to write less and less. The way I write most songs today is I will listen to the riddim; then I find a melody that compliments the music. I usually just hum along until I refine a melody. No lyrics at this point, just melodies. After finding the right melody, I will find words that rhyme and fit them into that melody.
In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed I am able to freestyle more. The song 1983 was recorded in one take. I only had a melody in my head. My plan was to record only a chorus in that take. Even when I finished, I told Haffid, the producer, “I think we can get a chorus out of that.” He looked at me as if I was crazy, and he told me we were finished. I did a second track with adlibs, but the main body of the song was off-the-top, dubplate style. That was probably the fastest song I’ve ever recorded. It took like 10 minutes in total.
IRIE. Where do you get your inspiration for your songs? Is it important that each song has a significant meaning behind it?
SGT. REMO. The inspiration comes from the music and my life experiences. Every song has different frequencies and arrangements. These dictate the energy of the song. Sometimes the riddim is fun and danceable; other times, they are somber or meditative. The other side of that is my own personal energy at the time. Most songs are inspired by my day-to-day life. Sometimes I am happy, so I sing happy lyrics, and sometimes I carry a lot of heavy feelings.
Regardless of the tone of the song, I always try to sing positive lyrics, clean lyrics. My children and my mother are some of my biggest fans, so I’ve always made sure I sing songs they can sing along to. The topics vary, but the message is consistent.
IRIE. Is there a track from your discography that resonates with you most? If so, why?
SGT. REMO. That’s a hard question. I have several songs which are very personal and very special to me. Delivery Service with Ranking Joe is like me, and Joe are flexing with some fyah lyrics and a ton of swag. How Long is a heavy roots tune that I love to hear and perform.
But if I had to narrow it down to one, I would say Sweet Reggae Music. This is the first song where I really sing, sing. I’m proud of the sound of the song, and the lyrics of the song explain what reggae music means to me. Every time I perform this song live, I feel something special. Like a true connection with Jah, with the earth, and with the people listening. It’s one of those songs which I didn’t write… it was written by a higher power.
IRIE. What do you hope first-time listeners take with them from listening to Sgt. Remo?
SGT. REMO. I hope they enjoy the music and the message. I hope they realize this is my life’s work and that I’ve embarked on this journey wholeheartedly.
IRIE. Is there anything you would like to say or share with the IRIE audience?
SGT. REMO. I just want to say thank you for the time. Every second and every moment in our lives will never repeat itself. So if you took the time to read this interview or listen to some of my music, I realize you have given me a fraction of your time. And time is all we have, so Thank You!