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Wednesday 13 November 2019
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Rome’s leap of faith

ex-Petrotrin engineer switches to soca music

Musical artiste, presenter and most recently wedding officiator Jerome “Rome” Precilla is a millennial man who has been charting his own course.

The man from Arima saw himself becoming a doctor as a teen, but because of the competitive nature of the field, decided to work toward becoming an engineer, which he did.

But after the closure of Petrotrin, Precilla decided to follow his mantra of being guided by the heart while taking the brain along – and became a full-time entertainer.

He said he is most passionate about TT, saying it excites him so much that when he travels he tells people about the country's unique, diverse and inclusive culture. “When I have friends come to visit, they never want to leave.”

His journey at Petrotrin began a little over ten years ago as a mechanical engineer after he got his MSc.

“I worked my way up to the preventative maintenance superintendent, till the company closed down last November.”

Before deciding to become an entertainer, however, Precilla said he had to ensure he was being guided by his mantra, and gave careful consideration to whether it could support him financially.

"Making money mattered to me, as it would to anyone. Money affords you a certain kind of lifestyle. However, for me, I always tried to live a very simple life without many luxuries. So a reduction in salary meant more of a reduction in savings for me, as my lifestyle was already a very simple one."Even before leaving corporate TT, Precilla said, “I was a full-time engineer and a part-time entertainer while I was at Petrotrin. So I hosted events and performed at gigs mainly on weekends.”

When he had international gigs, he said, he would use his vacation days for travel.

“It was tough balancing everything and having a social life, but I knew what I wanted in the end, so I chose to make the sacrifice.” By this time, Precilla was renting an apartment near the city while making mortgage payments for a property he is acquiring. Fortunately, he had finished paying for his van, which is a blessing for any millennial – one less big expense to worry about.

Jerome "Rome" Precilla is working on soca collaborations.
Photos by Denith McNicolls

As the November 30 closure of Petrotrin approached last year, it was a sad time for him and other employees.

“At first, we didn’t believe it was happening – most of us were in denial. Then when the reality really hit us, it was a sad time.”

He said the question in everyone’s minds was: “What are we going to do now?” as many of the now ex-workers had spent most of their working lives there, and had become more like family than co-workers, having spent most of their days together.

“It was not only about losing your main source of income (and only source for most), but we would no longer be a part of that Petrotrin family. Our attitudes then shifted from that of being down and out, to one of ‘We shall overcome this.’”

He spoke with his team to tell them the closure of the refinery was definite, and it was a time for new beginnings for them all.

“We all started looking for new opportunities and mapping our new paths.

“The final day was definitely heart-wrenching for most. You could feel it in the atmosphere. There was, for the first time, complete silence in the refinery as all the plants were shut down and employees made their final exit.”

Asked what fuelled him to keep pushing forward in the entertainment industry, and why he did not try to re-enter the corporate world, he said, “This was not a safe and secure job, as engineering was, but the mighty Petrotrin just closed down – so nothing was secure any more. I decided to follow my heart and chase my passion.”

He had worked on building his career in entertainment part-time for over six years, and in the last two years saw himself making great strides. However, the thought of limited growth in the entertainment industry stuck in his mind – knowing he would not be able to tap into his full potential as an entertainer if he continued doing it part-time.

“Slowly I fell in love with the entertainment industry. I would wake up each morning with music on my mind and new ideas and concepts for TV shows and ways to host events.

“Then the thought of regret in my old age regarding not giving it a shot full-time came to mind – and so I had to take a leap of faith.

Jerome "Rome" Precilla has been on Lil Kim's Girls Cruise on VH1.
Photo by Denith McNicolls

“I was terrified,” he admitted.

Being drawn to music and presenting was almost inevitable, as he grew up seeing his father hosting various events for church and telling what he now considers horrible jokes.

“I really thought they were hilarious,” he said, erupting into laughter. “I always looked up to him and said one day I would be up there commanding an audience as he did…seeing how comfortable he was up there made me realise that being in front of a large audience is not as scary as it initially looked.”

From the age of seven, performing poetry and verse-speaking at Queen’s Hall and representing his school, Arima Boys’ RC, were part of his childhood. Precilla also entered school calypso competitions every year up until form three at St Mary’s College, singing songs written for him by his sister Giselle.

“Then my father stepped in, saw it as a distraction and said, 'Time to focus on CXC,'” though he was still allowed to host some events at school.

“While at UWI, there was an ad for TV hosts for a show called Party Flava. It was a remake of Party Time. That was when I got my big break, and things evolved from there.”

Precilla is driven by the knowledge that unlike a corporate job, his success and income depend solely on his output.

“No sick days, no casuals, no vacation days – just me and my drive. My safety net, however, is knowing I have a BSc in mechanical engineering, an MSc in engineering asset management, along with over ten years of experience inclusive of being in middle management. In my later years I could always go back to being an engineer.

"But the older I become, the more difficult it would be for me to chase dream of being an entertainer. So, the time is now!”

Jerome "Rome" Precilla had one of the biggest parang soca hits Annie (Pone) last Christmas.
Photo source: Jerome Precilla

He said being a performer and a host are completely different in nature, but he finds bliss in his roles, and is happy to be one of the few entertainers who can be both – giving him what he sees as a competitive advantage.

It is important that he presents fresh, new, fun, and trending ideas that are relatable, which he said can be a challenge. But what keeps him motivated is the hunger to achieve more.

“I want to be the best version of myself, and to do that I have to better than the Rome of last year. So each year I compete with myself and try to better my work of the previous year.”

Asked if he was always a storyteller, Precilla, who grew up admiring the storytelling ability of Paul Keens-Douglas, said, “I was born to tell stories, to the point where I would tell such a good story that my parents would think it was a lie and I would get my tail cut.

“Mr Keens-Douglas would paint such a good picture with his words that you could envision it like you were actually there. He was definitely an inspiration to me.”

The love of creative writing gave Precilla a space for his imagination to run wild, and this translated into his music, which saw him writing most of his songs. Parang soca producer Mevon Soodeen came up with a number of the concepts, he said, and he would then go home to create the story around one word.

“I always admired some of the old calypsonians like Sparrow and Crazy and the way they would tell stories with their lyrics and have your mind reading in between the lines without them having to spell it out for you. Creativity at its best.”

A major challenge he had to overcome was getting his music played on the radio as a new artiste. Precilla laughed before saying, “Every new artiste would tell you that it is easier to get an HDC house than to get your song played on the radio.”

However, he quickly realised getting radio airplay should not have been his main focus. The actual end-goal was to get the music to his target audience, and the radio was only one medium he could use.

“So why not look at other avenues to achieve the same goal? So I went old-school and I started pounding the ground. I performed my songs at every hole in the wall, ‘hawk and spit’ bar, children’s parties —anywhere with a mic and a listening audience. And guess what – it worked.”

The songs gained popularity, after which music videos were created, after which they went viral on social media.

“After that, the radio DJs started taking notice of me and then boom! I had the number one new soca parang track in the country – Annie (Pone). Even some urban radio stations that didn’t play much new soca parang started playing my music.

“I just smiled and thanked God for the blessings.”

He has expanded his skill set by doing more TV broadcasts.

“I have been in a couple new TV shows with local stations, and of course there is Lil Kim's Girls Cruise on VH1.”

He is also working on new music for mid-year, and some soca collaborations, which will be released soon.

“I have also started working on my soca parang releases for 2019 Christmas, and wedding season is about to start, so I have a lot of weddings to host. So if you are thinking of getting married, you know who to call!”

Precilla’s message to anyone seeking to take a risk and follow their dream is that it is okay to be afraid.

“If your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough.

“My advice is to start small and build the foundation slowly. Start chasing your dream part-time while you have a job, as in the early stages of your new career or business would be difficult, so it is better to have some money coming in so that you can survive.

“Learn as much as you can in your craft or business.

"Read as much as you can on the topic, ask those already in the field for advice, or take short courses on the topic.

“You will have people that will doubt and discourage you, but once you know that this is your passion, turn your back to the crowd and go for it!”

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