Reggae artist Exco Levi to entertain Juno nominees

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In other musical genres, Exco Levi would be a star immediately recognizable in Canada.

But being on top of the reggae music charts in Canada – with seven Juno Award nominations and five wins for reggae recording of the year since 2012 — doesn’t quite cut it.

That’s okay, says Levi, one of the featured performers Saturday at the Juno Gala at the London Convention Centre where 36 of the awards will be announced ahead of Sunday’s televised broadcast of the major Juno Awards at Budweiser Gardens.

“People don’t know me, but that’s okay,” said Levi, who immigrated from Jamaica to Toronto in 2005. “I’ll just keep playing our positive music for the people.”

When I was growing up, I used to watch the Junos on television and remember watching Shania Twain and others, but I never dreamed I’d be performing at the Junos.

Exco Levi

Saturday’s gala, where the bulk of awards will be announced, is not open to the public. The artists and industry people in the audience while other performers, including Levi, entertain.

The big night for the public is Sunday, when thousands of music fans from across the country will gather at Budweiser Gardens to watch some of Canada’s most celebrated artists perform and the winners of the most popular awards will be announced.

The event, hosted by Sarah McLachlan, will be televised live on CBC at 8 p.m. and tickets still are available.

Performers include the Arkells, Bahamas, bülow, Coeur De Pirate with Loud, Loud Luxury, Jeremy Dutcher with Blake Pouliot, NAV, The Reklaws, McLachlan, 2019 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Corey Hart, plus a special performance from Europe by Shawn Mendes.

Allan Reid, president and chief executive of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which oversees the Junos, described Sunday’s awards show as a “ballet of chaos.”

“That’s like having 12 world-class headliners performing live at one concert,” said Reid.“It’s a unique show to be part of, a live television broadcast with lots of emotion in the room. The  emotions run high in the room and there are some beautiful, unique moments to experience.”

Although it has not been announced which awards will be presented Sunday, last year awards presented during the televised event were R&B/soul recording of the year, rap recording, breakthrough artist of the year, album of the year, fan choice award and artist of the year.

For those unable to buy a ticket to the live event inside Budweiser Gardens, there also is the Juno side stage in a heated tent in the south parking lot, where music lovers of all ages can watch the show on a big screen, followed by an after-party featuring London’s Loud Luxury and Ryan Shepherd.

The Juno side tent also is open Saturday for all ages with a hip-hop and R&B concert featuring KILLY, 88GLAM and Anders. Saturday’s gala will be hosted by Ben Kowalewicz, lead singer of the seven-time Juno Award winning band Billy Talent.

The performers Saturday include breakthrough artist of the year nominee Dizzy, contemporary roots album of the year nominee Donovan Woods, album of the year nominee Hubert Lenoir, the Allan Slaight Juno master class winners Port Cities and Levi.

This is the first time Levi has performed at the Junos, the fourth time he’s attended.

“I’m feeling really good,” said Levi, whose birth name is Wayne Ford Levy but adopted the stage name, Exco, in honour of Colombian soccer star Andrés Escobar, who was murdered after the 1994 World Cup, allegedly for accidentally scoring on his own team in a 2-1 loss to the U.S.

“When I was growing up, I used to watch the Junos on television and remember watching Shania Twain and others, but I never dreamed I’d be performing at the Junos.”

Levi won’t be performing on the televised show, but it’s still a thrill, said Levi.

“It’s a nice, more intimate event,” said Levi.

“You can sit and talk to the other artists from other genres. It’s a lot different from the (televised) show. You can talk and bond and take pictures with each other. It’s fun.”

His seventh nomination this year is for his new album, Narrative, a 13-song offering that is typical Levi, songs of freedom, living right, treating people with respect and avoiding troubles.

“I grew up in Jamaica and I was raised by my grandmother and grandfather and what I sing about are the things she talked to me about, how to live, about courage and the strength she gave me,” said Levi.

One enjoyable exception is Feel Like Dancing, a light, fun and very danceable number, the kind that makes you move without thinking.

“When I received that rhythm, I thought, right away, it felt happy, so it’s a fun song,” said Levi, who tends not to waste his words on his tracks which are full of encouragement, optimism, justice and peace.

“We don’t sing songs that glorify violence, or about abusing women, fast cars or girls or stealing money. We sing songs that are about unifying the people.”

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