Published Nov 24, 2017Based out of Brampton, ON, the artist known as Exco Levi (born Wayne Ford Levi), is undoubtedly one of the brighter lights on the Canadian scene. Boasting five Juno Awards from six nominations, he ranks among artists like Glass Tiger, Joni Mitchell, Deadmau5 and the Arkells for most won and — if we want to get cute with it — he has the best winning percentage in the history of the award when you include Canadian legends like Anne Murray (52 nominations to 24 wins) and Celine Dion (72 nominations to 20 wins).
Sounds nice on a press release, but according to Levi, not too earthshaking in the overall scheme of things. "To win the Junos five times out of six is great, because it looks good on my bio," he tells Exclaim! "I would be ungrateful to say that I'm not benefitting from it."
It makes things a lot easier when applying for funding as an independent artist when there are five Junos on the resume, he admits. But, for Levi, creating music is more than accolades.
"It about singing for the people. That's the driving force," says Levi. "This record is all reggae — straight roots — but it has a pop vibe to it. There's something for everyone." Single "Don't Cry" a catchy love song, is aimed at international appeal, he adds.
Dropping his latest full length record this week, in the form of 13-track Narrative, Levi tells Exclaim! that creating music isn't for accolades, fame (he was inducted into the Brampton Arts Walk of Fame in 2016), or even money. The music is his motivation, particularly in a Canadian music scene that is particularly tough on artists in his genre, in terms of getting wider exposure.
"Reggae music is a different kind of music. It's a spiritual, uplifting kind of music, one that speaks about freedom and liberation," he says of why the genre isn't regularly slotted into mainstream playlists or on Canadian radio.
"Once something is positive, it gets placed on the back burner. It happened to Bob Marley as well as Peter Tosh, the greats of reggae music. It's a music that you feel and most may not understand the music. But there are the chosen… who understand this music. So we just keep on kicking down doors with the tunes. Because this music can set you free, you know what I mean?"
Narrative goes big and strong in terms of this storytelling vision and musical collaborators. It took about 12 months to create and about 85 percent of the record was produced by Levi in his Brampton-based studio. He also worked with production team Silly Walks out of Germany, and the record features top shelf names like Penthouse, who produced "Trouble," Raging Fyah, who can be found on single "Redo" and reggae great Sizzla Kalonji on collaboration "Burn."
Ultimately, racking up Juno wins is great, but it's important that Levi keeps on creating and producing reggae music on his own terms — it's a reflection of himself as an artist within the genre. "I define success as having positivity. I wouldn't want to be successful any other way."
Narrative is out now; find more Exco Levi info here.