Sunday 23 September, 2018

Trinis Making Waves Abroad:Rob Riley proves his love for the Caribbean

Robert Christopher Riley may have been born an American but the Caribbean flows through his veins and he makes no bones about it.

The actor, currently seen in the new Dynasty series as the sexy smouldering chauffeur Michael Culhane, is the son of a Trinidadian mother from Morvant and Bajan father.

Born and raised in Flatbush, New York, he said he was raised in the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, growing up with the sounds Kitchener and Sparrow blasting from the stereo and the smell of pelau in his plate. The pride he has in his heritage is reflected in the national coat of arms he had tattooed on his back 17 years ago when his grandmother died. 

“Growing up with my mother and grandmother I learned love and respect for family. Thank God they didn’t Americanise themselves out there. They kept us close to home,” he said, recalling the West Indian community he grew up in which included a Guyanese woman in his building who sold roti skins.

“I love being Caribbean, it makes me special. I am unapologetically Caribbean. I am not going to apologise for what I like,” said Riley, who found a way to incorporate his Caribbean-ness with a steups on Dynasty.

He said his pride in his Caribbean roots was further fuelled by American celebrities with a similar heritage.

“When I found out Dougie Doug was Trinidadian it meant everything. Finding out Carlton from Fresh Prince was Trinidadian and Biggie Smalls was Jamaican it added worth to who I was,” he said.

Away from the bright lights, Riley has been pushing Caribbean culture in Los Angeles. He got involved in the Hollywood Carnival producing his own band in the fourth year under his Hollywood Massive Production Company with his cousin Teresa Joseph. In 2017, he was the Grand Marshall of the Carnival.

To say he loves Carnival is an understatement.

“It’s people operating at the height of humanity, it’s love, peace and joy. All the stereotypes that tears away at the fabric of society go away: sexism, ageism, homophobia,” he said.

Hollywood Massive is also a movement Riley has created to bring Caribbean creatives in the diaspora together to promote the art and magic that so many of them has, he said.

A lot of that promotion is done through his social media accounts, particularly Instagram where he has over 150,000 followers.

The actor, who starred on VH1’s Hit the Floor and in the Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof alongside James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad and Terrence Howard, said the demographics of his fans is vastly different to most Caribbean artists so whatever he does gives exposure to our people and culture.

Every experience he has in the Caribbean is filmed and photographed from the food and scenery to the people and places.

Even his recording sessions in Trinidad for his debut soca “Prove It” was captured in detail.

The song, which features Metro, is a power soca written by hitmaker Kernal Roberts and produced by Roberts and Azikiwe Kellar known in the business as ZZ.

Riley will be performing under the sobriquet Peppa Sauce and will perform as a vocalist in the new Traffik 7.0 band under Andy Joseph.  

He has also formed a management company called Peppa Sauce Entertainment to assist in the promotion and marketing of his music career. The company includes Crystal and Ian Pantin as minority shareholders.

In addition to Prove It, Riley will be featured in a Chutney Soca song with Rikki Jai. 

As he delves deeper into the culture, Riley hopes to use his platform to help the youth who may not have the access to opportunities and need hope.

He is currently shopping his concept for a Masters Workshop in T&T and Barbados, which is meant to be an eight-week workshop to help the youth in the creative sector. Riley was exposed to the talent of young T&T when he was a featured guest at Decibel in 2016.

“Whoever sees the value of it first will get it. I don’t want anything but to see it succeed,” he said.