From Kingston To LA; Barrington Levy recently brought his legendary vibes to the West Coast. Originally from Clarendon, Levy has been one of the most successful Jamaican artists in history. On Valentines Day, the dancehall pioneer performed for a packed crowd at Club Nokia, in the heart of LA's downtown district. The day after, Levy attended the 58th annual Grammy Awards, where he was nominated for Best Reggae Album for his acoustic album Acousticalevy. Also nominated in this category: Morgan Heritage, Jah Cure, Luciano and Rocky Dawuni. While Levy didn't take home the Grammy, he continued his California momentum with an intimate recording session at BNV Studios; LA's reggae friendly recording studio nestled in the heart of Hollywood.
Levy performed in front of a small crowd for the radio-show style series known as, Catch A Fire Nights. The private sessions are hosted by reggae music connoisseur and Jamaican in LA, Wayne Jobson. Levy sat down with Jobson to discuss his career highlights, his favorite reggae artists coming up in the game and what the Grammy nomination means for him and his future.
Speaking to Jobson, Levy drove home the point that, like many artists, he is a perfectionist at heart. "When I'm singing, I'm singing from my heart," said Levy. In Levy's heyday he drew on influences from many reggae greats such as Sugar Minott, Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs. "Those were the days when real music was making," said Levy, "Real music, live music, if you notice that music cannot die," Nowadays, he holds a select few new reggae artists in high regard. Those who he believes are up to par with his standard of music making. "I see some yutes holding up the ting like Chronixx, Tarrus Riley, Kabaka Pyramid; they look really promising."
Perhaps his commitment to making quality music is what has solidified Levy's status as a legend in the music business. He has been sampled and covered by several artists such as Sublime and, most notably, Diddy's former protege Shine. Levy's sound, what the masses consider reggae, is fundamental to the origins of dancehall music. However, Levy is not pleased with the state of dancehall music today. "I say dancehall and they take up dancehall and turn it into a big mess ... I would say because the lyrical content is not what it's supposed to be."
While Levy acknowledges change is inevitable, he also recognizes that gone are the days of raw dancehall. According to Levy, dancehall did not begin as a music genre, per se. The original vibe manifested when artists in Jamaica would freestyle on the mic at a street dance. This is how his hit single "Broader Than Broadway" was born. Levy was able to convince his band in England (after some serious debate) to mimic the looping of these Jamaican DJs in a way that created dancehall's signature tempo. This set the sound apart from traditional reggae. "Broader Than Broadway" and "Under Mi Sensi" ended up launching Levy's career, and placed him in The Guinness Book of World Records as the first reggae artist to simultaneously hold the number one and number two slots on the charts in Great Britain.
When asked what advice he has for the younger generation of dancehall, Levy maintains it is important to make music that is timeless. "Being in this business and being in it for the love of it. I think it makes sense because this music business is very selfish. If you're only here for the money and you're not watching the lyrical content that you're putting out and try to make songs that are timeless, it's a wrap, leave it alone." said Levy.
Although grateful to be nominated, Levy is not completely sold on the idea of the Grammy Awards being an authority on reggae-dancehall music. "I am not singing for no Grammy, I am not singing for no reward. If there is a Grammy I will appreciate it and I will take it; but the love for music is much more important to me than a Grammy. It's just the real." said Levy. This is the perfectionist in Levy, and his vast experience in the business has solidified him as a true ambassador for reggae music. As Jobson refers to him, Levy is one of Jamaica's "national treasures."
Does Levy have any advice for The Grammy Foundation? Sure: "While I really enjoyed myself, maybe they need to get at least one reggae act; that would be so sweet of The Grammys." Levy is convinced The Grammy Board could benefit from having at least one Jamaican on the panel (why not? Jamaicans are everywhere). "The Grammy Board needs to realize that Jamaicans don't just listen to Jamaican music. They need to come to Jamaica and see that we support all genres of music; we share the love man it's music. It's only spelt one way." Levy's genuine love of music has kept the quality of his music timeless for the past thirty years. According to Levy's rep, we can expect brand new music from the veteran artist this year.
Check out Barrington Levy performing his mega-hit single "Broader Than Broadway" at BNV Studios in LA here: