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Jamaica: Bleaching Message Pays Off For Exco Levi

One year ago, singer Exco Levi left Toronto, Canada for Kingston, eager to make a mark on the competitive dancehall circuit. It was not long before he got his first hit by addressing one of Jamaica’s most controversial issues.

Bleaching Shop is the Rastafarian artiste’s breakthrough song. Produced by Donovan Germain, it focuses on the skin bleaching craze which is largely popular among inner-city youth in Kingston.

Exco Levi said he was inspired to write the song after listening to a speech by Pan-African icon Marcus Garvey, hitting out against skin lightening by black people.

“When yuh think of where black people coming from an’ the things dem go through, this (skin bleaching) is really backward,” Levi told The Gleaner.

“Plus, doctors say people can develop cancer because of it, so it’s a really bad practice.”

Skin bleaching is a hot-button topic in Jamaica. Three years ago, the ministry of health launched an educational campaign to discourage the fad, especially in schools.

In February, there was a lecture on the phenomena of skin bleaching at the University of the West Indies’ Mona campus. The Associated Press news agency did a feature on its remarkable emergence here, in April.

Perhaps the biggest endorsement for skin lightening has come from dancehall deejay, Vybz Kartel, who is the unapologetic poster boy for the local movement.

Exco Levi said Kartel’s open use of skin products had no bearing on his decision to record Bleaching Shop.

“Nuthin’ like dat, yuh nuh. Wi jus’ si things differently,” he said.

Exco Levi was born and raised Wayneford Levy in Clarendon. In 2006, he emigrated to Toronto and after a slow start to his career, recorded his first song, Oh Canada, last year. It was around that time that he met singer Richie Stephens.

“He told mi, ‘Levi, yuh need to come home an’ do some tune’ an’ dat’s what I did,” he said.

Bleaching Shop is distributed by Germain’s Penthouse Records, the label behind numerous hit songs by Buju Banton, Beres Hammond, Wayne Wonder and Tony Rebel.

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