Which Canadian performer has the best winning percentage in the history of the JUNO Awards? The answer is reggae artist Exco Levi. With five JUNOs coming from six JUNO nominations, Levi currently has as many JUNOs to his credit as David Foster, Joni Mitchell, and Deadmau5. However, when talking to Levi, it became apparent that the Brampton-based reggae star still feels that there is much to prove to the masses.
On November 24th, Exco Levi will be releasing Narrative, the follow-up to 2015’s hit album Country Man. In support of Narrative — which features guest shots from Penthouse and Raging Ryah and the production of German producers Silly Walks Discotheque — Levi will be hosting an official release party at Ottawa’s Dekcuf on November 17th and one at Toronto’s Lula Lounge on November 30th. More on Narrative and those gigs can be found online at www.excolevi.com.
Check out Exco Levi performing in live in Toronto’s Dundas Square
Narrative is your latest album. How long did you spend writing it?
Exco Levi: It took about one year and a half. I got the first tracks from the producers in October 2016.
Do you have a favorite song on Narrative?
Levi: That’s difficult. I like them all, they all have a differ vibe, mood, message, story. Narrative. For example, “Don’t Cry” has a more international feel. Easy on the ear, not my typical roots song, but with a more reggae pop vibe to connect to a new market. Then there is “Mawga Dawg,” a roots reggae vibe because of the content of the lyrics and heavy drum and bass, which is the foundation of reggae music.
Which song on Narrative was written first?
Levi: “Mawga Dawg” was written first, when your receive rhythms from producers the rhythms tell you something. I could hear the melody of the song and it was sending me some lyrics. Some rhythms talk to you and some you have to tell it something. This one jumped out at me. It was also the first video that was shot. It had a vibe of Jamaica and so we shot the video there.
You are said to have the best JUNO winning percentage of any Canadian artist who has won multiple JUNOs. Did winning that first JUNO change your life? Or even change your approach to music?
Levi: Winning my first JUNO didn’t change my life, because I saw previous winners and their careers were nowhere. It did make me realize that the JUNO was a step forward but the work was up to me. I have been working as hard as the first win, and five wins later, the work has not got easier. I still don’t have mainstream airplay. I still have not performed on the JUNOs…
The lyrics of reggae are serious. My predecessors and my mission is liberation, equal rights and justice. We tell poignant truths on danceable rhythms and sometimes we enter the system. Reggae has largely been a political movement for truths, rights, justice and liberation. So it is not easy for the system to endorse that. Still, I will not change. Yes I do have tracks like “Feel Like Dancing.” Taking the movement from the brain to the body sometimes. Yah Man.
Who was the first Canadian reggae artist who you were aware of?
Levi: Snow, that guy who did “Informer” that sold I believe eight million records. As it turns out, the song “Wiseman” on the album is produced by Vic Park, who produced some tracks with Snow.
What inspired you to move to Canada from Jamaica?
Levi:: Canada seemed like it could provide opportunities for me and my family. I came here thinking music, but had to resort to the factory. Which turned out to be gruelling but a very good thing because it made me pen and voice a song titled “Life In the Factory,” which is an anthem for immigrants from all over the world. “Living my life in the factory. The pay is not satisfactory. Boss man don’t stop watch me.” (laughs)
What were some of the live venues at which you performed at in your early days? Did you perform at open mic nights?
Levi: JAMBANA. My current manager produced that show and paid me a mere $300 dollars for the gig. I will not let her forget that. She boasts that over 10,000 people saw and heard that Exco Levi, although they had only heard about it on the reggae radio programs. I gigged on Eglinton Avenue and would grab a mic at dances. But my leaning was always toward band gigs. I played keyboards initially.
Is there anywhere you haven’t yet toured that you are still hoping to get to?
Levi: Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, I get likes from Costa Rica a lot. And across the rest of Canada. I have performed in Quebec — Quebec City and in Montreal — a few times. British Columbia, I did a small four-city track run. Calgary, Alberta, I went to the JUNOs in Regina and won; I never performed there. My target in my three-year strategic plan is one million Canadians. The rest of the world should be a bonus. My goal is to expend the Exco Levi footprint.
Check out the video for the single “Canadian Money”.
Is there a career accomplishment of yours that you are most proud of?
Levi: My star on the Brampton Arts Walk Of Fame is pretty decent. Russell Peters, Alan Thicke, Trey Anthony — I am in good company. That was a great moment for me and my family and my team and it can never be erased.
When not busy with your career, how do you like to spend your free time?
Levi: Soccer. I got the name Exco — pronounced “Esco” — from Escobar the Columbian soccer player. I also like profitable business ventures.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Brampton?
Levi: No, but in Toronto I like V’s Vegan Restaurant. I like to cook and like Soto Soto downtown. Great seafood.
Finally, Exco, any last words for the kids?
Levi: As I say in “My Moment”: “Don’t let your address define you.” And read a lot. Be informed. Be aware of what’s going on in this world. Motivate each other. The limit is the sky.