Exco Levi — sticking to his roots

Thursday, March 05, 2015

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CANADA'S reggae market has been growing steadily over the years with Jamaicans and their descendants working to take the music to that market.

However, the artistes in that market have never been able to cross over into the home market in Jamaica and make a name for themselves on the Rock.

One reggae act is working to change all of this and has begun reaping the benefits.

Exco Levi, born Wayne Ford Levy, migrated to Canada 10 years ago and after a number of odd jobs, decided it was the music of his homeland that would be his chosen path.

But like all Canadian reggae acts, Exco Levi wanted recognition at home. His search would lead him to veteran music producer and CEO of Penthouse Records Donovan Germain.

"Richie Stephens took me to Germain and we have been working together, bridging the gap between Jamaica and Canada with music. My work with Penthouse also resulted in a link with Silly Walks, producers out of Germany. Music is a thing that is mystical and I believe it is my energy, uncompromising lyrics and vibrancy that has caught the ear of these people," Exco Levi told Splash.

The Penthouse/Silly Walks connection resulted in a collaboration with rising star Kabaka Pyramid on the track Strive. This was recorded on Silly Walks' extremely popular Honey Pot riddim, which also features Smile Jamaica by Chronixx, Sweet Killer by Ginjah, Brothers by Jah9 and Da'Ville's One in a Million.

Exco Levi has also been making the rounds on the major festivals and stage shows here in Jamaica. In December he did Sting, in January it was Tony Rebel's two-day festival Rebel Salute in St Ann, and last month among his stops was Reggae Wednesday organised by the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association to celebrate Reggae Month.

"I give thanks to be among a group of artistes which are really bringing conscious music to the people. People like Protoje, Chronixx and my good friend Iba Mahr are setting a trend and I am happy to be among them."

The Canadian reggae community has been good to this conscious reggae vocalist, having won the Juno Award, Canada's version of the Grammys, in the reggae category for three consecutive years -- 2012, 2013, 2014. This year he is again nominated for his recording Welcome the King.

"It is indeed an honour to not only win for three consecutive years, but to be nominated once again. The Juno awards is 44 years old and the reggae category was only introduced 12 years ago. For me to win three times out of 12 puts me in a very good place, and I just have to give thanks."

The Juno Awards is set for March 15 and three days later, March 18, Exco Levi will be dropping his next major project, the album Countryman.

"Countryman is basically recounting my experiences growing up in Manchester. It's my story as a yute from rural Jamaica. Mi jus start know Kingston... Crossroads and Coronation Market are jus places mi used to hear 'bout. Me come from the hills of Manchester and this is what the album is all about," he said

"The tracks tell a story, my story. So when I sing One Room Shack is what I know about; One Suit is another single. Since I Throw My Comb Away is a cover of a Twinkle Brothers song and speaks to me accepting Rastafari. I recorded General Penitentiary with Mykal Rose cause I went to jail at age 14. There is also El Shadhai, a cover of the Jahmali original, which reminds me of my grandfather's strong gospel background," Exco Levi continued.

Countryman features some of the top names in Jamaica on the production side, with Germain helming the project. Names such as Robbie Shakespeare and Dean Frazer can be found on the musical credits, while Sherita Lewis, Shuga and Dalton Harris provided supporting vocals.

When not in studio or on stage, Exco Levi delves into the music of the current generation, but always harks back to the root of the music listening to the greats -- Bob Marley, Dennis Brown and Peter Tosh.

"I can listen to these icons everyday and each time I listen I hear something I never heard the day before. That's the direction I want my music to head in... that timeless sound," he stated.

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