After his stint with Island, Papa Levi recorded for a number of independent labels. This is some way from being a complete discography…
Militancy/Baby Mother (Jah Records JRW02 1986)
Militancy maybe shows more optimism with the record company being prepared to stump up for a picture sleeve. The back cover credits the Trouble Some Band as:
Drums – Patrick (Treco) Augustus
Bass – Polean
Guitar – Jerry Lions
Congas – ZEBUL Zebulan
Keyboard – Sargent Pepper
Percussion – Treco/Jerry Lions/Zebulan
Prod/Arr by Patrick (Treco) Augustus and Papa Levi
Sgt Pepper seems like a real cornerstone of 80s UK reggae, having recorded extensively for Mad Professor and Jah Shaka. (Indeed the first release on Ariwa records was Sgt Pepper’s Come Back Again 12″). He is also the brother of singer Sandra Cross and the late Victor Cross.
“Take of your jeans and take off your suit
And buy a pair of black army boots
Militancy this a miltancy
Imagine Papa Levi in a full khaki”
The tune itself has the same sort of mad kinetic energy as a good jungle track – except with proper horns and drums and bass. It’s all done at breakneck speed (for reggae) and Levi is at his absolute best chatting fast style over the top. The lyrics (in as much as I have been able to decipher them) seem to focus on an end-times battle between 100 rastas and 200 babylonians. The rastas may not have numbers on their side, but they do play Sugar Minott and Nitty Gritty out of a huge ghetto blaster. After their victory the dreads “cark up de foot in de diamond socks” and “drink ribena out of the box”.
The release proves that Levi could make it on his own, without major label support – indeed this is one of his best tracks.
Hill Top/In The Hills (Jah Records JRW003)
“Hill Top” is based on Joseph Cotton’s “No Touch The Style” which was one of the first songs to use the Punaany riddim back in 1987. Cotton has been recording as Jah Walton since the 70s (and was also a traffic cop!), but this release on Fashion is a definite highlight of his catalogue.
“No Touch the Style” is a duet with (an uncredited) Janet Lee Davis in which Joseph despairs of his woman and Janet can’t quite believe him and asks him to repeat himself:
“What I am doing with a woman like Sue?”“A woman like who?”
“A woman like Sue. She give me carrot juice mixed with special brew”
“Seh she give you carrot juice mixed with special brew?”
“She give me carrot juice mixed with special brew
Then she get up from morning and give me no tea
Then she lock up me house – throw away me key
Mash up me settee and me one TV”
“You mean the colour TV weh you go truss pon HP?”
“Hill Top” is a similarly structured duet between to blokes (both of which may be played by Levi) which catalogues the misdeeds of various women and is hugely gossipy in flavour. Someone called Michelle comes in for particular stick because of her affections for the various Saxon MCs, for example:
“Me know a little girl by the name of Michelle
Have four men and every one she give hell
In a nuff different man flat that girl dwell
She go from one to one like a damn jezebel
Love Daddy Sandy but she prefer Colonel
Love Tippa Irie and Rusty as well.
De face look criss and her body look swell
When she walk her batty sing like a damn church bell
How much man draw water in your well?”
Ram Jam Capitalism/Me Love Sess (Treco TRE004)
This seems to have come out as both a 7″ and 12″. The a-side is allegedly a dig at David “Ram Jam” Rodigan:
“The boy a put himself in a de position
For capitalise upon the black nation”
Levi counterposes white people profiting from reggae with black independence:
“What we need now is organisaton
and conscious man like Louis Farrakhan
to take control of the situation”
No doubt this won him few friends, but I doubt that was the intention. The Farrakhan reference is interesting and suggests a more catholic (small ‘c’) attitude to black consciousness – beyond the “pure” rastafari of the 70s and early 80s. Perhaps by the time this record was released the Nation of Islam was more prominent in terms of radicalising black youth – it certainly had a huge role in hip hop.
Indeed, Levi expands on his views in this interview with the UK section of the NOI:
“I am pro Black in my thinking, in my actions and I try my best to support my own people, you know. It is not that I am opposing any other nation, but I feel that I must stand for my own first and then if I am able to, I will stretch out my hand to help others, but self first. So first and foremost Papa Levi sees himself as an African descendant, not a European, even though I was born here in this part of the world. I see myself as an African stolen from abroad, you know.” […]
“I love the Nation of Islam. I love the message of Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan is a present day mentor. Even if you do not agree with everything he says, we must give Min. Farrakhan credit because he does not have to put himself in the position that he is in. We need more strong Black men to stand up like this. I have to say to Min. Farrakhan, ‘Respect due.’”
It’s not known what the notoriously puritan NOI made of the b-side with its “You love sess – bawl out YES!” chorus.
Both sides of this single show a move towards a more ragga feel.
Levi’s first LP, Trouble in Africa was released on Jah Records and he has subsequently made a number of albums for Mad Professor’s Ariwa label. I’ll try to write about those some other time, along with any other singles I happen to pick up between now and then.
It’s always worth remembering that Levi’s records, as brilliant as they are, were always a pale shadow of his performances as an MC on Saxon Studio International. Live chatting is by its very nature much more ephemeral, of the moment and harder to catalogue, so I shall leave you with an mp3 of the man to speak for itself. This is edited down from a clash with Unity Sound circa 1982, I think in North London. It features snatches of Daddy Colonel and Tippa also, but is primarily Papa Levi, Saxon’s “squadron leader” ruling the roost over some great riddims.