Interview with Exco Levi
11/28/2017 by Gardy Stein
Despite a shaky German-Canadian Skype-connection, Reggaeville linked up with Exco Levi just prior to the release of his brand-new album Narrative. The German-Canadian connection that led to that was not shaky at all, but has grown into a fruitful, solid relationship between the award-winning singer and Silly Walks Discotheque over the years. How it came to pass, what this album and its songs mean to Exco and why the Mama in his life is not his mother, you'll find out in our interview:
Tell us about the shows you had… on the 17th in Ottawa and before in Montreal. How was that?
The shows were great! I think Montreal had more people, but Ottawa was a better vibe. To me, that's just my opinion. Both shows were great. The response to the new songs were epic, people loved the new songs. Of course they love the older songs too, because they are Juno award winning songs, most of them.
Did you perform all of the new songs?
Now, I performed probably about seven songs from the new album. You see, I still have to incorporate the older songs because you can't do a show and leave out those, people want to hear those songs.
And you have a next show is coming up in Toronto, right?
Yes, next week Thursday is the grand launch of the album! And this is gonna be the in Downtown Toronto, at a place called Lula Lounge. It's a great live-performance place, a lot of great bands have played in that venue, and we're doing it there. The response so far has been great, all the major radio stations in Toronto are supporting the album, they are promoting it, so it's promising to be a good vibe there. In another interview you said that the crowds in Europe and Canada are different.
Can you explain what that difference is?
Well… (laughs) the people in Europe they just know everything, eeeverything. Everything you sing, they will know it. And in Canada, they will choose, like they have their favourite songs. Not to say that people in Europe don't have their favourite songs, but they would know most of your catalogue, you know, because they are more in-tuned to the culture and more in-tuned to the new songs and new artists, they follow you! In Canada, and this is just my opinion, they know you and they love you, but they are not as in-tuned as the Europeans.
Speaking of the new album Narrative, you chose to collaborate again with the German producer team Silly Walks Discotheque. How long does this connection date back?
Well, from around 2012. My first single that did well all over the world was produced by Penthouse Records, you know, Donovan Germain. And it's because of that single that I came in contact with Silly Walks on Facebook. And we've been good friends ever since. They are the ones who brought me to Europe for the first time - they brought me all over! I really respect these guys. They play a very integral role in the development of Exco Levi, along with Donovan Germain from Penthouse Records, so I really respect Oli and Joscha. They always have Exco Levi's interest at heart, you know, in regards to the music. And I have won three Juno Awards for them here in Canada, for songs like Storms Of Live, Jah Nah Sleep, Strive with Kabaka Pyramid… those are great songs that I've done with them over the years. So it's only fair for us to do a full length album. This is it!
I still remember the vibes of the Storms Of Life video, to see Hamburg like that presented to the world, it's great! When did you start working on the album?
We've been always talking about it over the years, but as I say, nothing ever happens before its time, and I guess the time is now! And I just decided to do it now, because my first album was produced by Penthouse Records, so it's only fair that I give Penthouse an album and Silly Walks an album because those two entities played a very integral role in the development of Exco Levi over the years.
Can you say something about the title? What narrative are you putting out on that album?
Well, we go through a great ordeal in choosing the name for the album. Cause you know when you do an album, most people use a title track from the album to give it the name. But we didn't want to put attention on any specific song. So we just found a name that would cover the thirteen stories on the album, you understand. Because we didn't want to put emphasis on one particular song, we wanted to put emphasis on the entire project! So we decided to find a name that would cover the whole thirteen songs, so narrative is what we came up with.
Indeed, you touch on a lot of subjects in the 13 tracks included, singing about Jah, about dancing, entertainment, but also some other topics. In Old Capital, for instance, you sing about Spanish Town. What connects you to this city, why did you choose to dedicate this song to it?
Well, I'm not from Spanish Town, I'm from the country, from Manchester. But the thing is my mum lived in the area over the years and I would often visit her and spend holidays in the area and ting, for the last 6 to 7 years going back to Jamaica to do music I stayed in Spanish Town, so I have a lot of friends there. I lost a lot of friends there too, you know, and so… this is just my take on my experience in Spanish Town, but I wasn't born there.
Speaking of your mother, you have a song dedicated to her as well. Without getting too personal now, can you give us an idea of what kind of person she is and what role she played in your life?
Well… it's actually about my grandmother. I love my mum, but I grew up with my grandmother in the country. And as the song states, she didn't raise no fool. Most of the things that we do in this time, in this life, we still remember her teachings. I remember the words she used to say… as the song says, she didn't have to speak a word, but you know exactly what she means. So that was Mama and I just give thanks that I can bring along all of her teachings and apply to my everyday life, because it's very important. This is what catches people in life sometimes, because we stray from the foundation and end up along a different path, you know what I mean. So I think we should just stick to the foundation, to our roots, to the teachings of our parents, because it is very important.
There is a video you posted on Facebook having breakfast in the car with an old lady. Is this her?
Yes, that's my Grandma.
The last song now, Redo, you sing about how society needs a redo. Is it a certain society you mean?
Well, there is so much things going on that we just need to redo, so much things that mankind has done which just need to be re-done, that's what it's about. To give you a perfect example, in the supermarkets around the world right now, you have genetically modified food, and we know that these foods can cause cancer. I am 36 years old, but when I was younger, when I was 15, 16, I always heard that this can cause cancer. And now everything is modified, everything is pumped up, and the governments need to realize that these are what causes people to sick and cancer and all other kinds of disease. Because people have strayed from the natural way, planting their own food, like when you are in the country and just pick the big fruits dem from the trees. There is so much things, but I just give food as an example. Thousands of people are dying every day because of genetically modified food, and thousands of people are also dying from the use of guns! Still every day they make guns and bullets and they wonder how is it that so many people die from guns. That is what the song is talking about!
Do you think this redo has to be done from the top, like from politicians changing laws, or is it the people's own behaviour that has to change?
Well, you know, they are the leaders, they dish out the food for the people to eat. But if it don't change from the root, it not gonna change from the stem. I think that we need to educate our people, our younger generation more, you know, so once they are educated and then they reach in the position of leadership, they would know how to lead a nation, how to lead a people. You understand? So I think it comes with dialogue and educating each other. I'm talking about the younger generation! Because the people who are older, they are already corrupt, I don't think… they will change, but we the young generation have to change them. We have to change ourselves first and unite and have dialogue and teach each other about what's going on and then we can make a difference.
You mentioned guns also, and the song Frontline Soldier talks very directly about war and its terrors. When was the moment you conceived this song?
Frontline Soldier was co-written by a friend of mine. He sent the melody of the song, but he was singing about a girl. When I heard the song, the only thing I could think about was a soldier who was forced to fight, because most people are forced to do this because of unemployment. Can you imagine a person like that on the frontline? So I switched the song to a patriotic song about a soldier who goes to war and was on the battlefield and he was wondering what we are really fighting for. Because there is no winner in war, you know! That's what it's all about.
One song we have to mention still is the Sizzla combination. I know he is probably really requested to do features, so how did you get him to do the track Burn?
My story with Sizzla… you know, we grew up on Sizzla's music. I remember the first time I listened to a Sizzla cassette. I mainly grew up on Gospel music, because I went to the church, and one day when I was coming out from church, a friend of mine made me listen to a Sizzla cassette, and from that I get to realize that it's not only Gospel music alone which is spiritual music. You also have a different spiritual vibe, and from there it's been just Sizzla straight, so he is like our icon, in Jamaica, as a young warrior. I never met him until maybe two years ago. A friend of mine who is his friend, his name is King Ises-I, he is a herbal doctor in Jamaica and a good friend of Sizzla, and he is the one who introduced me to Sizzla and he is also a co-producer on the song. He is the one who sent it to him. We went through a great ordeal in getting this song done, because Sizzla is always busy, spends time recording, touring, so I'm happy that it happened.
Some time ago you posted a picture about a video shoot. Which song was it for?
We shoot Mawga Dog in Jamaica, so this video is coming out soon. Then there is a next video for Don't Cry, this will be the next one to be released.
Ok, so we talked about the production and the lyrics and the upcoming videos. Let's talk about the performance part next - can you introduce the High Priest Band?
Gladly! On keyboards we have Duke Daws, he is a musician who toured for like 15 years, all over the world, so he is like the musical director for my band. Then we have people like Theo, he is the guitarist, also a great musician here in Canada for many years. On drums we have Cleon, he is from Montego Bay, Jamaica, he migrated to Canada and used to play on the North Coast in a Hotel Village for many years. And on bass we have LA Allan, he is a touring musician too. Because, you know, in Canada there are a lot of musicians from Jamaica who live here, so they are the ones that I'm trying to find. For harmonies I have Uhuru and Karen, they are the harmony singers.
How long have you been working with them?
Two years now. We are still building, we rehearse every week getting ready to tour the world!
Nice to hear that. What makes Canada so attractive for Jamaicans to migrate there, more than the US, for example?
I can only give you my experience… If I had to choose somewhere else to live apart from Jamaica, it would have to be Canada a million more times, for many different reasons. Canada is just more clean, more family-orientated, health care is free, the government of Canada supports you in all your endeavours, like for instance my project, the Narrative album, the government helped me support the launch! I can't complain, this is what every artist desires, the help, so big respect to them!
Last question, apart from music and recording and touring, what are you into?
I play a lot of soccer! I love it, like really. But I also have a business, I have a trucking company, I do that on the side. We transport boxes and all that, so I have my own company. Apart from music, you have to invest in something else, it's very important. If you have kids coming up and it's not 100% sure that your kid wants to be an artist, you have to make provisions for them. That's what I do. That's one of the beauties in Canada, because here you can do anything you want, it's a country where you can achieve what you want to achieve, you know. I went back to school part-time now to upgrade my trucking license, just do get some bigger units and be able to drive them, too.
That sounds great. Thank you so much for the interview – I hope we see you in Europe soon!
Yes man, it's in the works! We try to come to Europe next year with the new album. The people know me all across Europe, they know that Exco Levi is a good show. I mean, I would say from 2012 I show growth too, I learned so much, you know. So our performance will be way different. Everyone should just go out and get a copy of the album to get to know the new music and they won't regret!