Photo by Diane 'Livonn' Adam

This dancehall pioneer has a sound all his own. From his humble beginnings in Kingston, Jamaica, Levy slowly worked his way up to becoming an international sensation.

In the formative years, Levy and his cousin Everton Dacres sang as the Mighty Multitude and recorded "My Black Girl" in 1977. A year later, the duo broke up and Levy joined Byron Lee and the Dragonaires as a backing vocalist. "A Long Time Since We Have No Love" was Levy’s first solo recorded tune in 1978.

Well-known producer Henry "Junjo" Lawes discovered Levy singing on a local sound-system and, with New-York-based producer Hyman "Jah Life" Wright, quickly brought Levy to Channel One where he worked with the Channel One All-Star Band (the foundation of the soon-to-be Roots Radics), and young engineer Scientist. Success was imminent—Levy gave a rousing performance at Reggae Sunsplash 1980. With his fourth single, "Collie Weed," Levy was the dancehall poster child. The first album from the Lawes/Levy camp was "Bounty Hunter" which showcased hits "Shine Eye Gal" and "Moonlight Lover."

Three more albums followed that were quite successful and gave listeners a change from the more serious Rasta-inspired lyrics that came before. Levy was light-hearted, talented, and his voice blended well on collaborative tracks. "Black Rose," "Money Move," "Prison Oval Rock" were some of the singles that garnered much recognition, and the album "Robin Hood" affirmed that Levy was the biggest singer on the island.

International recognition came in the mid-1980s when Levy linked up with Paul "Jah Screw" Love, former selector for U-Roy’s King Sturgav Sound System. Together, they did "Under Mi Sensi," which held top positions in the reggae charts for weeks. "Murderer" soon followed for producer Jah Life, and "Here I Come" with Jah Screw was an international success through a deal with London Records. Levy started appearing in UK television spots.
The success was fleeting, though, and Levy endured a two-year slump. He continued to perform at Sunsplash as a top attraction from 1987 until 1995; however, it was in the early 1990s when he did the tune "She’s Mine" for Black Scorpio that he got back in the game. His Bob Andy cover of "Too Experienced" with Jah Screw got him signed to the Island Records subsidiary, Mango, in 1991. "Divine" was the first Levy album released on that label to favorable reviews.

In the United States, Levy signed to MCA Records and released "Barrington" in 1993, produced by Lee Jaffe, but the relationship with MCA was rocky and Levy soon left. It was the 1994 album, "Duets" released by Ras Records in the US (and Greensleeves in the UK as "Barrington Levy’s DJ Counteraction") that brought groundbreaking sounds to older tunes. He collaborated with Beenie Man on "Two Sounds" and "Under Mi Sensi;" with Bounty Killer on "Living Dangerously;" Spragga Benz on "Don’t Run Away;" and Cutty Ranks on "Looking My Love." Producer Jah Screw was tuned into the jungle movement sweeping the UK at the time, and remixed the tracks accordingly.

More recently, P.Diddy protégé, rapper Shyne, featured Levy on the Bad Boy label track "Bad Boyz" in 2000. They used the "Murderer" chorus behind a hip-hop beat and it was highly successful in the urban radio market.

Barrington Levy has had his fair share of career ups and downs, but he’s never lost his talented touch and classic sound. Overall, has been an international steady force in the dancehall and is still unmatched in his trademark sound and stage performances. As SNWMF audiences in 2002 can attest, you won’t want to miss Barrington Levy live and direct!

--Laura Gardner

Barrington Levy Links:

The Music Of Barrington Levy - Track List

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