Barrington Levy, the self styled canary, is arguably one of dancehall reggae’s finest singer. The longevity and success of his singing career places him in the company of Cocoa Tea, Frankie Paul and Sanchez, as one of a selected few from the 80’s, who remain current today. Levy like his peers have lasted and sustained his greatness from that era until now. In fact, after all these years his voice is still, simply amazing. According to Judy Cohall, an African American of Jamaican parentage, for reggae lovers of her generation who came of age in 80’s, Levy serves as the perfect bridge between traditional roots and culture reggae and reggae dance hall and, because of the high quality of his lyrics he remains relevant in the dancehall today.
Since the canary burst on the music scene with his hit “Bounty Hunter” in reggae, literally hundreds of singers have come and gone but, like finely aged wine, he is still here and keeps getting better. With his signature yodel, the familiar “Shubbly wap, Shabble didle, didle, didle whoa” and shabbla diddle diddle whoa” he is recognized world wide for his many hits. Levy refers to his style as simply “world wide”. After blazing up the all white sing-a-long crowd at Martha’s Vineyard in Boston the night before, the SRO massive at Club Cross Road in Maryland was taken for a music lesson with Levy’s brand of dancehall rock, rock reggae. Levy’s Detour posse, his multi-racial band, a set of musical performers gave a high energy performance and a scintillating session of singing where he could do no wrong.
He sang his hits songs from lovers rock, tunes like “Black Roses” (in my garden) to lyrically conscious root and culture tracks like ‘Vice versa love” dancehall favorites like ‘Living dangerously’, and “Broader than Broadway” the mood was set, the vibe was right and the audience became interactive at times, sometimes as a chorus and other times as a choral. The cheers and screams were non stop, and Barrington loved it. When his voice climbed high pitch scale with ‘murdereeeer’, the crowd responded with roars of approval, when he lectured about ‘health instead of wealth’ to those who paid more careful attention to their cars than their bodies, they got the message. The canary told the females that ‘Every day I love her, just a little bit more” and that “She’s Mine” but although he was ‘Too experienced’ he would continue “Looking my Love. When Levy got “On the Telephone” and she heard his voice, he considered it “Strange” (how the dances are changing/ it only bubbling that the young girls want plenty of) but he would continued to “Teach the youth” (how to live, and how to survive).
Barrington elicited some disapproving steers from the otherwise approving females when he launched into “21 Girl salute” and preached tolerance for men who have more than one woman because of the disproportionate ratio of women to men is “seven fat girls to one slim brethren.” When the haunting bass line, slowly and haltingly began to build up against a one-drop back drop on Grace Jones’ “Night clubbing” the rhythm, it suddenly transformed when Levy sang “Mi a Bad Bwoi pon the corner, we’re dangerous” his duet w/ Rapper Shine, he then segued into “Every Posse must work” ( because if you’re not working then you have got to be loafing) the ambience felt eerily familiar.
After his performance I spoke with Levy who was in very candid and frank mood. He had a number of issues he wanted to air publicly. With traces of bitterness and resigned regret, Levy said ‘It’s not easy being in this business” and the reason he’s kept going over the years is “for the love of the music, not for the money or” I would have given it up a long time ago.”’ Levy contends that bias in the music industry seem only to favor light skinned artist like “Bob Marley, Jr. Gong, Sean Paul and Shaggy” access to the wherewithal to be successful. He expressed strong reservations regarding the perception and treatment of dark skinned artists like him, who “look too much like Marcus Garvey.” Barrington noted that despite his obvious track record of success and enormous talent he has never been given the same label support as his lighter skinned peers who have succeeded. Ms Cohall believes that artist like Shaggy and Sean Paul could benefit from collaborations with Levy and expressed surprise that this hasn’t already happen given Levy’s proven success with P. Diddy on Rapper Shine’s “Bad Boys.”
Levy hinted that he is contemplating retirement from the recording business. If true’ this would be devastating loss to reggae music in general and music in particular. Levy is completing, what he say is his final album, and is seeking a record distribution deal. The canary says he isn’t interested in a major label deal because he feels record labels only “sign you then shelf you.” His children have taken active interest in the music business, so his retirement would allow him the time to “guide them.”Finally, he lamented the fact that white audiences are far more supportive of him and his music than blacks, especially Jamaicans. This constantly amazes him when he plays new places and the all-white audiences sing every word of all of his songs. Though he is surprised and humbled by this, however, he complained of feeling betrayed and saddened of being let down by Jamaicans and his peers in the music business. He fells that are not supportive of each other. This last point, seems especially regrettable, Bob Marley complained that after being in Jamaica all his life and not getting the respect he earned, and that it was only when people in Europe, Canada and America recognized him, Jamaican chose to follow suit. Levy’s broadside suggests it seems that not much has changed thirty years after Bob complained in the now famous 1975 ‘Talkin Blues’ interview to Dermot Hussey about this.