Conversation with Levi Roots, reggae musician, television personality, celebrity chef, businessman and multi-millionaire mostly famous for being the creator of Reggae Reggae Sauce
Words by Alice Sambrook, Photo from Levi's collection
Why did you change your name to Levi Roots?
I was at a point in my life, heading down the wrong road as Keith Graham (my real name). I didn’t know who I was – Keith Graham is a Scottish name, a result of the slavery heritage of Jamaica, and I couldn’t identify with it. I was re-evaluating my life and looked towards my faith, Rastafarianism, when I was inspired to take the name Levi. Roots came about because I was trying to get back to my literal roots and find myself again, to be the best me I could be.
What was going through your mind when you were waiting to go into Dragons Den to pitch your business?
Laudamercy! There was a lot of pressure on me that day – my kids had told me not to do the show and I really wanted to prove them wrong. I didn’t really know anything about the show so I just went on and was myself. There was nothing else I could do! I was a bit worried when I got my figures wrong but when they made me an offer, I went to the back of the room and prayed to my Grandmother for guidance, which I duly received. And the rest, as they say, is history!
How often do you eat reggae sauce yourself? What does it go best with?
I eat it every day! It goes well with everything – chicken, fish, and even baked beans! My personal favourite is fish and chips with Reggae Reggae Sauce.
You were a vegan for 12 years, would you ever go back to that?
I still maintain a fairly vegan diet. I eat chicken and fish from time to time but for the most part, I eat a vegetarian diet. Rastafarians follow an Ital diet which is essentially vegan so I try to stick to that as much as possible.
They’ve seen me on TV and they feel that they know me and they want to share in the success of the Rasta man from Brixton
What dish would you cook to win someone over?
Ackee and salt fish is always a winner in my book. It’s packed full of flavour, colour and good vibes! It always makes me smile and reminds me of home. It’s good for you and if people aren’t familiar with the dish, then I get to educate them on Jamaica’s national dish, which I’m always happy to do.
What was Levi’s first love, reggae or sauce?
I get asked this question a lot! I can’t choose between the two. They are both my life’s work and they go hand in hand, to me. They’re so interlinked, I can’t separate them!
Not everyone will know that you and Bob Marley were friends. What was he like to know?
He was a great, great man. Such an inspiration to me and to many people the world over. His music continues to inspire me, and he will continue to inspire generations that are yet to come. I do a lot of talks in schools and children as young as 4 or 5 know who Bob Marley is and can sing along to his songs. It’s amazing!
What lessons do you think that people could learn from a Rastafarian way of life?
I don’t like to preach too much about Rastafarianism. It’s special to me and something that I do in my own time. But what I particularly respect about Rastafarianism is the simple, natural, real beliefs and way of life, which are key elements of the ideology.
What will you be doing at the Rastafarian Festival in Ethiopia?
I will be attending the Meskal Festival which commemorates the discovery of the True Cross. It is my first trip to Ethiopia and I’m very excited about it. I will be visiting Lalibela and all the other famous landmarks. It’s also an Ambassadorial trip as I will be helping to promote trade and investment, in association with the Ethiopian Embassy. I am hoping to meet many local entrepreneurs and of course, I will have to do some cooking and listen to some regional music along the way!
Why must a true a Rastafarian make a journey to Ethiopia once in his lifetime?
I have wanted to visit Ethiopia for many, many years and I finally have the opportunity and the time is right. As I’m going for two reasons – to help promote the country’s economic status with the Ethiopian Embassy and also for personal reasons, I am hoping to get a lot out of this trip. I think it’s going to be a trip of a lifetime.
What is your favourite classic song, and what modern music do you like?
Three Little Birds by Bob Marley is always guaranteed to make me smile! But I also like a lot of modern music; I have a wide range of musical tastes. I find inspiration in many forms!
You have become richer than most people could dream of – what is the best thing that money has bought you?
Ozwald Boateng suits! They are my weakness; they are so well cut and look sharp. Every businessman should have at least one!
Has more money been detrimental in any way to a simpler way of living?
My financial position now has helped me to help many people; more people than I could ever have imagined. I think that’s one of the best things to have happened to me since Dragon’s Den, being able to help others. However, I don’t have enough money to help everyone and I find that hard.
Would you ever go back to live in Jamaica?
One day, perhaps! I love being in Jamaica but I have much more to do in the UK. I can’t say when that might happen, but I hope one day, when I’m not too old, I can retire and live a more simple life. That’s the dream!
Where is your favourite hangout in Brixton?
I have a lot of friends in Brixton and have lived there so long that everywhere is familiar and comfortable! If I had to choose one place, I love going to Refill to get some delicious Caribbean food. It always reminds me of home when I eat there.
You have become known for your sharp dress sense as well as your delicious sauces. What is your favourite way to dress and how would you describe your style?
Sharp! As I’ve said before, I love my suits. I love well made, well cut suits in a range of bright colours. I think they reflect my personality perfectly.
Any fashion fails?
Too many to mention!
Who do you think dresses well?
There are a lot of people whose style I admire. I like it when a person’s personality shines through. For instance, I mentor a young skateboard designer called Dean Clarke. He has a distinctive style which is reflected in his brand. Like me, it’s a package – you can tell that his business is a true reflection of who he is as a person, just by looking at him.
Your business has expanded so rapidly, from sauces, to ready meals, to award winning pasties, why do you think the public loves your Reggae Sauce so much?
I think that when the public buy my products, they are buying into a little piece of me. Unlike so many other brands, my brand has a face; a real personality. They’ve seen me on TV and they feel that they know me and they want to share in the success of the Rasta man from Brixton.
What kind of dad are you?
I’m a caring dad, I love my kids. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. We are a family unit and were in the sauce business together from the start. I try to guide them as best I can and have so much love and admiration for them.
How do you see your future, and what do you hope for your children?
We still have a long way to go with the brand. We are always looking for ways to improve and expand. We have a number of exciting projects coming up in the next couple of years and hopefully we can branch out worldwide at some point soon. I want to grow the brand to become internationally recognised, that would be my dream. I hope to leave a legacy for my children and inspire others to work hard and follow their dreams.