He’s what you might call a simple bus driver (although driving one of those long, red buses on Gibraltar’s narrow and tricky thoroughfares is no mean task). He’s a ‘birder’, or goes ‘birding’ – that’s bird watching of the feathered kind to you and me – and he calls it ‘Rasta birding’! Why? Because he’s very much into reggae music also.
Rastaman Paul fronts the very popular, local reggae band, Heritage. But that’s not all, he’s of the opinion that that higher force which many of us agree exists and we tend to call God – a he or a she – is not a being but an energy or an intelligence which makes the whole thing work, and it’s up to each person to call it what they want – immortal as it may be. A touchy and very controversial subject attracting numerous points of view; a topic perhaps left for another day… So, how’s that for starters?
Paul Rocca was influenced by his siblings’ choice of music as a child. Being the youngest in the family he just followed what the older ones used to listen to. Pop music of all styles is what they all enjoyed, and much later Paul moved on to his love for Bob Marley’s brand of reggae. And so the seed was sewn! As with many of us, you start getting together with a friend or groups of friends and begin to explore to see if you can make inroads into the world of music, usually not knowing where your influences will take you. “I began to get together with the late Michael Danino, and then the Montegriffos – Peter and Michael. And that’s how it started for me,” Paul recalls. He then moved on from there getting into reggae as a duo first. “But not playing Bob Marley at that stage,” he tells me, but since those days the reggae legend has definitely become Paul’s influence and hero. It was at the Rock on the Rock Club where much of that reggae journey started, a venue visited a number of times since. Paul, a true enthusiast of that Jamaican, catchy musical style that combines rock, calypso, and soul called reggae, is the singer of Heritage, whose members too are ardent followers of that music genre.
Heritage has performed alongside UB40 , Third World, Aswad and at the Gibraltar Musical Festival.
The Heritage line-up comprises two guitars – Jeremy Celecia (band leader) and Mark Anthony Celecia, on bass is Alan Gonzalez, Norman Apap on keyboards, Nick Gonzalez is the outfit’s sax player, Tyrone Whiteland looks after percussion instruments and Paul as mentioned, on vocals – having dropped the guitar which he used to play in previous outfits in the early days.
Heritage has been around now for just under 10 years and proud and privileged to have performed alongside reggae greats – as support act – to UB40 up the coast, Third World, Aswad and have also appeared at the Gibraltar Musical Festival (GMF) at Victoria Stadium on the Radio Gibraltar Stage. “Those were great events and incredible experiences. We’ve also played on National Days. On one occasion playing at Latinos on the Beach we had passing boats and other craft coming in closer, stopping and joining in the fun enjoying the music. That was different and turned out to be a great event.”
Unlike other types and styles of music – some of which have slipped in and out of fashion – reggae’s popularity has remained and has constantly kept the flag flying for Bob Marley’s music and other pioneers of the alluring, Jamaican catchy lilt. There are strains of rock in that music too of which Paul is a fan also. Heritage also boasts of a manager in John Paul Bautista. “That’s right, he looks after bookings which are beginning to come in as we slowly, hopefully and finally slide out of the Covid pandemic… But despite the difficulties, venues are opening up and we’re getting busier performing here and there.”
It’s a fascinating world and you never know what you’re going to see.
When not on stage or in a rehearsal room somewhere, Paul is driving us around on one of our red buses: a job he enjoys, having been on the buses or coaches for about 12 years – first showing tourists around on Bland coaches, moving on to the Gibraltar Bus Company. “It’s a good job. I love chatting to the passengers and I would say 95% of them are more than pleasant. You get the odd one complaining when we arrive late, not taking into account our busy roads especially at certain times of the day. It also affects timings when passengers don’t have their cards ready to show us who they are and others who need to pay and don’t have the correct amount, meaning we have to spend time sorting out change. But those are minor issues and by and large the great majority of those using the bus service are absolutely fine!”
So what of the ‘birder’ who goes ‘birding’ as often as he possibly can? In fact, he says bird watching takes priority whenever possible in his life. Gibraltar being an important migratory path or channel in the western Mediterranean keeps Paul busy with his binoculars always at hand up the Rock or from other vantage points. “I go along to El Coto Doñana in Spain twice a year. It’s a fabulous area for bird watching where you come across so many species. It’s a fascinating world and you never know what you’re going to see. I tend to note the fluctuations in species as they come and go and see how some species reduce in numbers and others increase. The destruction of forests and global warming does have some effect. It’s amazing how some travel from south to north and vice versa at different times of the year. They generally start coming up towards the north as we come into springtime and begin to return down south from late summer onwards.”
“Home is where my books are.”
Paul tells me there’s a tiny little bird that flies from the arctic somewhere in Canada that wings its way down to South Africa before the Arctic winter earnestly sets in! How do they do it? Paul is so into it and says when the music and Heritage days are over, he will be spending all of his time birding. “Absolutely, I do it for the love of it and it’s where I get my biggest gratification.”
Yes, Paul the birder and the bus man who thought he would never perform on a stage has performances to look forward to with Heritage, and watching hundreds and thousands of birds flying in massive numbers, themselves performing in perfect synchronisation way up above, for the likes of birdwatcher Paul…
And after a Heritage concert or a bird watching day out, it’s time to head home as Paul tells me, “Home is where my books are.” Another topic for another day!