It was no surprise that Barrington Levy kept the crowd at the Shaggy and Friends concert rocking, on the lawns of Jamaica House in St Andrew last week, with his blend of classic dancehall songs that stretch back to the Seventies. Levy really knows how to rock a crowd, exemplified a few years ago at the Lions Centre in Cayman before a sparse crowd. Despite the lack of atmosphere, Levy was ultra professional, performing as if in a packed football stadium.
Wherever he performs, Levy is adored, enticing audiences to sing along with classics like ‘Prison Oval Rock’, 'Too Experienced', 'My Woman', 'My Wife and My Sweetheart', 'Murderer', 'Teach The Youths', ‘Shine Eye Girl’, '21 Girls Salute' and 'Black Roses'.
Crowds are always amused by Levy with his trademark "shiddle diddle woah" line.
He always loves tipping a nod to Dennis Brown, his idol, often covering the late crooner’s gem 'Revolution'.
Barrington Ainsworth Levy was born on April 30, 1964 in Clarendon. He formed the Mighty Multitude band with his cousin Everton Dacres. The pair released ‘My Black Girl’ in 1977. Levy established his solo career the next year, aged 14, with ‘A Long Time Since We Don't Have No Love’. Though the single was a failure, he was already a popular performer at Jamaican dancehalls.
Even in his teenage years Levy was having success with songs such as ‘Al Yah We Deh’, ‘Looking My Love’, ‘Englishman’, ‘Skylarking’, ‘Wedding Ring Aside’ and ‘Collie Weed’.
His next few singles were similarly successful. Although albums were not terribly important in Jamaica at the time, Levy released four albums before 1980: Shaolin Temple, Bounty Hunter, Shine Eye Gal (United Kingdom) and Englishman. His success led to many earlier studio and sound system performances being reissued without his consent, releases he described as "joke business".
By the time his 1980 album Robin Hood was released, Levy was one of Jamaica’s biggest stars, and saw his international fame explode, especially in the UK. Levy made his debut as a producer on the rare 1981 showcase album Run Come Ya, which was issued on the Canadian Puff Records label.
Taking a break from albums, Levy then released a series of hit singles, including ‘Mary Long Tongue’, ‘Under Mi Sensi’, ‘Prison Oval Rock’, ‘Black Roses’, ‘My Woman’ and ‘Money Move’. He began working with Paul "Jah Screw" Love and toured the UK in 1984, enjoying a big hit on the reggae charts with ‘Under Mi Sensi’, which was followed by the crossover hit ‘Here I Come’, which reached number 41 in the UK charts in 1985.
He returned to LPs with Lifestyle and Money Move, followed by a British hit album Here I Come. Levy recorded less in the next few years but still toured extensively, playing at Sunsplash every year from 1987 to 1995. His profile was revived by two cover versions of Bob Andy songs – ‘My Time’ and ‘Too Experienced’, both produced by Jah Screw, and he was signed by Island Records in 1991 for the Divine album.
He returned to the UK chart with ‘Tribal Base’, a single by Rebel MC featuring Levy and Tenor Fly, which reached number 20. In 1993 Levy tried to break in the United States with the Barrington album, but it failed to give him the profile he wanted and his relationship with MCA Records was short-lived.
In the 1990s, Levy continued to release periodic hits in Jamaica, and occasionally in the UK, although his vocals were sampled and used in many underground and released jungle tunes. In 1998, he released Living Dangerously, which included a collaboration with one of Jamaica's most prolific deejays, Bounty Killer, and superstar American rapper Snoop Dogg. Levy continued to work with various rappers and deejays and found success again with a re-release of ‘Here I Come’ in the UK.
In 2013 he released the single ‘Love the Way She Love’, a collaboration with Mr. Vegas, and released an album featuring new songs and reworkings of old hits such as ‘Prison Oval Rock’ and ‘Black Roses’. His album, Acousticalevy, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 2016.
Although only 53, such is his body of work amassed over 40 years, even if he never records again he can continue touring the world performing his numerous classics to a diverse and appreciative crowd.