Think Santana, only faster.
That’s how Roland Smith describes his eclectic style — and it’s this high-energy performance that is getting him noticed not just on the home front, but across North America.
Smith, who kicks off Mermaid Theatre’s fall and winter concert series this September, started picking away at the guitar at quite an early age.
By 12, he was regularly gigging with a band.
“I started playing in my first real band, where all the other players were in their 30s and 40s. And I got permits so I could play late nights in bars,” recalled Smith, while sitting at a picnic bench overlooking Windsor’s historic waterfront.
As a teenager, Smith performed on stages from Windsor to Walton, and at a number of festivals, including Fox Mountain.
He has spent the last four years developing a unique sound and, at 25, he’s ready to take the music scene by storm.
“I spent most of my formative and teenage years playing rock and roll. And I eventually started to branch out into flamenco and also writing orchestral music,” said Smith.
So it was only natural for him to meld the styles and create a sound that has other artists taking note.
Smith released his debut album, Equilibrium, in 2018. In the fall of that same year, Smith released his first single, Nacido Del Fuego, and its corresponding music video. Shot in Halifax and Wolfville, the near five-minute video flies by as Smith’s fingers effortlessly slide up and down the guitar, creating a fast-paced rhythm that makes the listener want to get up and dance. The video, directed by Andrew Coll, features the enchanting dancing talents of La Azulita.
Smith described the song as being “intense Latin/rumba flamenca guitar with a rock edge.”
Smith writes and performs his own music — though he does play some covers, but always adds his unique styling to them.
Smith says he’s been fascinated by flamenco music for quite some time.
“Well, I had enjoyed listening to the genre for a number of years before I ever attempted playing it. And I was always captivated by the emotional depth and the aesthetic beauty of the medium,” said Smith.
“I don't play pure flamenco. In order to master an art form, such as traditional flamenco, it would take many years of study. But for me to do what I do, I learned to do it very quickly.”
But he’s not just a skilled guitarist. He also composes music and has won awards for his classical arrangements.
“I recently premiered a concerto for guitar and orchestra in Halifax,” Smith said. “And I won awards in international composition competitions, notably, one in the Czech Republic a few years ago. Although performing is a great love of mine, composing is yet another.”
Jake Smith, co-owner of Moe’s Place Music School and a two-time East Coast Music Award winner, had a hand in teaching Smith the guitar.
“Roland is an amazing guitarist and has worked hard at his craft,” he said via Facebook. “I started teaching Roland when he was seven or eight and he has become one of the best guitarists I've ever seen. I'm super proud of him as a student and he's a great person.”
Smith is officially endorsed by Godin Guitars, a Canadian company that serves such artists as Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd), Myles Goodwyn (of April Wine) and Steve Stevens (of Billy Idol).
Danny Everson, the executive director of Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia and the Mermaid Imperial Performing Arts Centre, said the organization is pleased to have Smith involved in its new emerging artists program and highlighting his talents.
The Sept. 7 concert will mark Smith’s first full live show as a solo artist. He said he will also have his “top-notch band” accompanying him on stage, as well as stellar guest vocalist Lisa Myers, who is based in Halifax.
“A lot of people thought he was from Latin America when they saw (his music video),” said Everson. “They couldn't believe that he's from Windsor. So he's a wealth of talent. We're just really excited about this (concert).”
Everson said watching Smith perform is a treat.
“I know he's won plenty of accolades for his compositions and he's toted as an up and coming (artist) in the composition world, but his guitar skills are absolutely incredible,” said Everson. “I have never seen somebody's fingers move that quickly, other than Lloyd Spiegel, the famous Australian blues singer and guitarist that we had (at Mermaid) last year.”
Smith said he’s “thrilled” to be taking the stage.
“Right now we're rehearsing hard to put on the most exciting show we can conceivably perform,” he said.
Aside from his show in September, Smith is scheduled to perform at the 2019 Atlantic Flamenco Festival in Halifax on Oct. 2.
Smith said the support he’s received from friends, family and fans has really helped to spur on his creative pursuit.
“I want to emphasize how proud I am to represent Hants County when I'm abroad, and how the support I've received from my friends here in Hants County has been overwhelming,” he said.
“It's this spirit of encouragement that has spurred me on.”
Smith has high hopes for the future. He’s currently an independent artist but is open to being signed to a label.
He says he’d like “to perform as much as possible,” and showcase his talents both at home and abroad.
“And I'm looking at the options for getting on tour in the near future, and the prospects are more promising than ever.”
• To follow his career via social media:
— On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RolandSmithOfficial
— On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rolandsmithhimself/
IF YOU GO
What: Roland Smith live in concert
When: Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia, 106 Gerrish St., in Windsor.
Cost: $23 per ticket