Performing for the first time in the Cayman Islands this Friday as the headline act of the Digicel 1st Anniversary concert, dancehall legend Barrington Levy brings with him a list of hits dating back to the 1970s.
Yet, this top-class reggae vocalist’s collaborations with dancehall and hip-hop stars has kept his music fresh and exposed his sound to new generations of fans in the Caribbean, North America & Europe.
Called reggae’s ‘Mellow Canary’ by virtue of his strong, pure vocal style, Levy began performing in dance halls in 1977 at age 14. His early hits include “Collie Weed’ and “Shine Eye Girl.”
The young star also recorded several collaborative singles with the dancehall DJs of the day. These hits included “Call You on the Phone” with Toyan, “Moonlight Lover” with Jah Thomas, and “I Need a Girl” with Trinity in 1980. That same year, Levy made his first sensational appearance at Reggae Sunsplash.
Levy released a deluge of singles and four albums between 1979 and 1980. First up was ‘Bounty Hunter,’ which boasted the smash singles “Reggae Music,” and “Looking My Love.” These were swiftly followed by ‘Englishman.’
Utilizing revitalized Roots rhythms, and giving the songs a hard, but danceable edge, Levy helped establish a whole new dancehall sound with the 1980 album ‘Robin Hood,’ which included the hits “Mary Long Tongue,” “Too Poor,’ “I Have a Problem” and “Even Tide Fire a Disaster.”
As the decade progressed, the hits continued. ‘Black Rose,” “My Woman,” and “Money Move” were just a few of the hits released between 1981 and 1983.
1983 saw the release of two new Levy albums: ‘Lifestyle,’ and ‘Money Move.’ In the U.K., the Burning Sounds label also released ‘Hunter Man,’ a greatest-hits collection.
But the hits were still coming on strong; and in 1984 none were bigger than “Under Mi Sensi.” The song immediately became a classic, staying on the U.S.,UK & Jamaica reggae charts for weeks on end.
Levy would name the new album ‘Here I Come’ that year, and the title-track would climb into the Top 50 in the U.K. The album itself took Britain by storm and ensured that Levy walked away with the Best Vocalist Award at Britain’s Reggae Awards.
For the rest of the 1980s, Levy’s output slowed. He released ‘Love the Life You Live’ in 1988, which was to be his last new album until 1991. However, before the ’80s were over, he scored two more hits with the singles “My Time” and “Too Experienced.”
As the 1990s dawned, Levy released the ‘Divine’ album and joined forces with Rebel MC and Tenor Fly for the smash single “Tribal Base,” which soared into the British Top 20. In 1992 he released the ‘Turning Point’ album. A standout track from this effort was “Something In My Heart.”
In1993, Levy signed to MCA in the U.S., and produced ‘Barrington,’ which featured a re-recorded “Under Mi Sensi,” and boasted such strong songs as “Murderer” and “Jeep.” Also in 1993, Levy released the single, “Work” which featured an uplifting cultural message over an infectious dancehall ‘bogle riddim’ and became a hit in Jamaica and Britain.
Next came remixes of “Two Sounds” and “Under Mi Sensi.” Hardcore ragga remixes featured DJ sensation Beenie Man chanting over revamped heavyweight ‘riddims’ alongside Barrington’s classic vocal tracks. Both tunes were subsequently transformed into jungle anthems with furious drum breaks welded to the reggae bass lines. Jungle music took the world by storm in 1994 with “Under Mi Sensi” creating a sensation in the new genre.
Levy then recorded ‘Duets,’ which overdubbed the hottest DJ’s from Jamaica onto further classic vocal tracks. From this set, the “Living Dangerously” single with Bounty Killer rocketed up the Jamaican charts in 1996.
1998’s exciting ‘Living Dangerously’ album featured such diverse artists as rap master Snoop Dogg and Southern California punk-reggae band Long Beach Dub All-Stars.
In 2000, Levy scored a Hip-Hop hit through a collaboration with rapper Shyne on the track ‘Bad Boyz.’ The song received heavy rotation on U.S. urban radio stations and the video was a staple on Black Entertainment Television (BET.)
Since then, numerous Barrington Levy compilations have appeared featuring much of the singer’s greatest work. Through new collaborations, as well as his enduring earlier hits, Levy remains on radio station play lists and in dancehalls throughout the world. He continues to record and tour extensively throughout the Caribbean, North America, Europe, and Asia.
Cayman is his latest stop, and both long-time fans and today’s young dancehall audience are looking forward to hearing the songs that have become the legendary dancehall anthems of the last 20 years.
The Digicel 1st Anniversary concert featuring Barrington Levy is presented by Spectrum Promotions and Style 96.5 FM Gates open at the Royal Palms at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 4th. Advance tickets are on sale for $20 at all Digicel locations and at Style 96.5FM. Admission at the gate is $25.