My Lord Sound. An interview with Ranking Levy
Four years ago, when I first visited Israel, I had a special feeling. It was the young’s people energy surrounding the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. I was impressed about the vast music community and their love for sound system culture and Jamaican music. So, my exploration into the Israeli's sound system culture began with last year interview with Miss Red, and now, a year later, I managed to speak with the chill and resourceful man called Ranking Levy of My Lord Sound.
My-Lord Sound was founded in 2003, after the return of Ellen G. and Ranking Levy from Jamaica. The idea to set up a sound was in their minds, until the final decision came up in one bright day at st. Elizabeth JA, and then the name My-Lord Sound was chosen. The sound was formed with a mission to play a wide variety of Jamaican foundation music, which at the time was not played what so ever at Tel-Aviv’s/ Israel’s night clubs and bars. Sister Ellen started spinning Levy’s selection of old Jamaican 45″s & LP’s from 17th north parade- Randy’s JA, and the vibes were inspired a lot by sounds like King Stur Gav,and the music often played on Rae-town on a Sunday night. The first test appearance of My Lord crew was at Sofa-Beat night- club, on a Tuesday night. That was a night when Sister Ellen played the music alone, and the crowd embraced the music with great interest. Due to the success of the first night, the next session Ranking Levy roped in, in a unique DJ style that seasoned the music in a traditional Jamaican patios presentation.
Besides his activity in My Lord Sound, Levy is a close collaborator of Mungo’s Hi-Fi, Danny T & Tradesman, Kalbata & Mixmonster, Subactive Sound System, Laroz and an Ital part of the Trilion collective. His activities in the sound system culture features sessions in Israel with artists such as Sister Nancy, Dennis Alcapone, Ranking Joe, Scientist, and UK pioneers like General Levy, Tippa Irie, Top Cat and Congo Natty.
My interview with Ron touched subjects such as the local music community, Israeli sound system culture, and his work with Ellen G, painter, artwork illustrator, and designer for the Mungos’ Hi Fi catalog, local and international musicians and artists.
| What is the story behind Ranking Levy?
Ranking Levy was born before My Lord Sound, over twenty years ago. Back in the day, my friends used to encourage me: "Touch the mic, touch the mic! Be an MC, you have the style." Truth be told, since I was 15, I was obsessed with this deejaying style and kept on doing it. I had a show back in 2000, where they booked me and it was decided I was going to be the MC for the night. I had no nickname and they asked me what to write on the flyer. I was just back from New York and I was listening to a lot of Ranking Joe. There is a sound system in Jamaica called King Stur Gav, which I am a big fan of, and their deejay was Ranking Joe. So, inspired by that, I said to them: call me Ranking Levy.
The strange thing is that most of the people now call me My Lord, so when I am in Jamaica, everyone asks about me as My Lord. Sister Nancy, bless her, I don't think she knows my real name, she just calls me My Lord. Some people here in Israel call me Levi, but I just became My Lord. Recently they started calling me Papa Lord and that sounds good too.
The idea to become an MC started in high school. While everyone else was into hip hop, I was into Jamaican Dj style of the 1960’s and 1980’s. So I couldn’t really find partners.
It was when I first came back from New York in 2000, that I started listening more and more to sound systems like King Stur Gav with Josey Wales, Brigadier Jerry, Charlie Chaplin and Ranking Joe. Artist like the legendary Dennis Alcapone, U Roy and Big Youth off course, I Roy, Nicodemus, Super Cat, Early B the Doc, Ranking Trevor, Jah Thomas, U Brown, Trinity, Lee Van Cliff, Toyan and even Ninjaman and Junior Demus, Prince Jazzbo, all of them are a part of my musical DNA. You can hear little bits of all of them in my DJ style. Last but not least, the Great Joseph Cotton, that I regard as a great inspirer and a direct teacher.
With some of the names I mentioned I had the privilege to work with, so my learning process was directly from them, yet, with some I never had the chance, because they are no longer with us.
| Your musical evolution is strong rooted in your connection with Elle G. and My-Lord Sound. How do you related to this connection?
My Lord Sound is me and Ellen. To create the sound was Ellen's idea, I was just collecting records and DJing a little bit. I was very skeptical about performing that style of music. I honestly thought people here in Israel would not like it. Rub-a-dub is a very specific sound, and at the time we started My Lord Sound, Israelis were listening to something else. She said, your music is wicked, let's play it to the public.
It all started in late 2003, when we came back from Jamaica, and we are doing it ever since. She started selecting, I was holding the mic, and we toured, playing in Los Angeles, Miami, Jamaica, Spain, Bulgaria, Sardinia, Italy, everywhere. That was the heart, it all started beating there. My Lord Sound is our ground base. Our sound comes from the rub-a-dub tradition of singing lyrics on a sound. Back in the day, 2003, in Israel, there was maybe a little bit of dancehall, roots DJ's, but holding a mic on a sound wasn't a common thing. It was a surprise and we took it like an agenda, we continued from Jamaica to play the sounds we loved in the eighties. It may sound today like it is a standard, but it wasn’t back then. We have been hosting Jamaican artists in Israel too, musicians like Sister Nancy, Lone Ranger, Trinity, U Brown, Brigadier Jerry, Al Campbell, Dennis Alcapone, Top Cat, General Levy, Tippa Irie, Scientist. So many names have come here and performed with us.
There are some recording sessions we did, but our aim was never to release music. We are not seeking to document our activity, we rather like the word of mouth, and if people like our style, they would want to experience it more.
I prefer to deejay or record with Trilion, Mungo's Hi-Fi or Jahtari, Pure Niceness or any label, rather than release a My Lord Sound song or album. We never became a label being busy doing other stuff. In a sense maybe we can do that too, because these days everything is documented, every session goes live on Facebook, Instagram and all that, but it's like Irish & Chin. Chin is like pretty much the biggest promoter for reggae and dancehall and sound system culture in the US. He saw me in a Miami session where I was deejaying and he said that the way I do it, even Jamaicans forgot how to do it. My style reminds him of old school stuff and that is a great compliment.
| Can you introduce us in the Israeli reggae scene?
Well, the Israeli reggae scene started as early as the late 1970’s with people like Guil Bonstein, Yossi Fine and Tony Ray. In the 1980’s, right until the early 1990’s, there was a reggae club by the name ‘Soweto’ run by Guil Bonstein, who years later became my partner in bringing many artists to Israel.
There are some great MCs here from the early days. Artists such as the great Sister Orly, who done only two recorded tunes in the rub-a-dub era, and Silverdon who was a rising star in Jamaica in the early 1990’s. There is Nigel Ha’admor, the first rapper that comes from Jamaican origins, that pioneered rap and dancehall in the country; Fishy Hagadol, one of the originators of Hebrew dancehall, back when nobody believed it could actually happen, and today you can say it is mainstream.
Can’t forget Daddy G and Chulu, from the same pioneer generation. There are too many names to mention, since the scene is diverse from dancehall sounds like Rude Boy, A-mar, and Mystical Youths. The Great Roots and Dub
sounds like 12 tribes, with the first physical sound system in the country, and One A Way that later became Tel Aviv Dub Station. There are some great producers like Asaf Smilan from Medtone, that re-creates the more rootical sound, Kalbata that goes into experimental dub and has a more UK Bass direction.
More big ups goes out to New Zion, Sensi, Bless and Mercy and Ya! Productions. In the last half decade there is a rising wave of Israeli-Ethiopians that has descended. Artists, promoters and DJs that fully embraced dancehall and took it to the next level drawing huge crowds. Just to name a few: Mangisto, Ayalaw, Ofek Adanek, Shasha and Yael Mess. There is a lot of talent out there, from a wide variety, each bringing his own part to the puzzle.
When I was a youth I used to listen to ska and 2 tone and some UK made music, so I was kind of an outsider. It's only in the early 2000’s that I started knowing more people who were into reggae, and introducing me to the scene. Since then, we are all connected in one way or the other, all trying to highlight this culture in a country without a Carribean community at all. Our country, unfortunately, suffers from inner racism and constant conflict, but we are all trying to create a style of music that brings unity instead of segregation.
Ranking Levy with Scientist
Israel has a relatively small music scene and we are all friends in this community. Shuz In and his band 4321 from Haifa are an example. I am part of the Trilion project with him. We have a mixed style of electronic, digital, dancehall, reggae and a dub sound. Producers Kutiman and Kalbata are friends of mine as well. Our little scene in Israel means that everyone is connected together and we help each other. For example, if someone wants to go to Jamaica to do some music there, I would link them up, as I am connected there. Kalbata had a project released on Soul Jazz with Jah Thomas and Little John, the tune Play Music Selecta. I helped him get recorded in Jamaica and then talked with Mungo's HiFi, who did a remix for it. My song with Mungos, New York Boogie is on that same instrumental of the remix. Rejoicer, the producer and boss label of Raw Tapes Records, puts out a lot of bands and artists from Israel. His real name is Juve, and, as a kid, he was coming to My Lord Sound sessions. He is clearly influenced by dub and punk rock, hip-hop and psychedelic. When I recorded Mad Man Style with Jahtari, Rejoicer recorded my vocals in his studio. It is a small world.
This whole new generation from Haifa is made of General G, Guma Ranks, Mentor Irie, and Miss Red. They are all high school kids coming at our sound system sessions. They caught the vibe and took it from there, but initially they were coming to Tel Aviv, to our shows, and we felt we were all part of the same crew. Only afterwards they created their own Easy Rider crew. It's true, nowadays Haifa is a cultural hub in Israel when it comes to music. Haifa is the third important city after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but it is a city less pretentious, just plain creative. The first time we got called to Haifa was in the early 2000s, maybe 2004 or 2005. The crew called Broken Fingaz, the street artists, who are just brilliant, internationally recognized, were the ones to ring the phone and book us. The haifians were kids and they were inviting us, as My Lord Sound, to perform in their hometown at a party. From those early days, rub-a-dub was strictly our agenda, so we would play all night, from eleven to six o'clock in the morning. Our love for vintage reggae and raggamuffin, from the sixties to the eighties, was very much appreciated by this younger generation of upcoming artists and musicians. And together we are the ones establishing the rub-a-dub movement in Israel. More sounds have come after, but you can sense our influence. For us, with My Lord Sound and Easy Rider, this affair is going on for more than a decade.
| Both you and Ellen G, your partner from My-Lord Sound, have a strong relation with Mungo's label, Scoth Bonet. How did this started?
For several years we were collaborating with Mungo’s Hi-Fi and, doing Scotch Bonnet showcases here in Israel. We brought them in Tel Aviv and Haifa, for two nights, as far back as 2008, in the MySpace era. There was this instant click between us, and they really loved the artworks Ellen G was making for the night’s concert and other events.
They loved the graphics so much that Ellen G became their inhouse graphic designer, most of Mungo's releases artwork, design and posters are done by her. We kept the links that way, but we also had our musical links, they invited us touring with them, and I am featured on some of their releases. I have two tunes with Mungo’s, New York Boogie and Total Disaster.
| You have worked with so many record labels and artist along the time, so I must ask what is your perspective on the music industry?
When it comes to record labels I support their activities. An example is Scotch Bonnet. I am with them from day one. They've been doing a phenomenal job and I've been seeing how the label evolved through the years. With Trilion, our collaboration, we released 1000 copies on vinyl. Here in Israel, my friend Shuz In is in charge of distribution of his band 3421 and our band Trilion. He also has his own label Ghostown Records in Haifa. If we had more releases coming up, we would be considering establishing an international label in the future. Yet, working with an official established label, like Scotch Bonnet, these days has many advantages. You definitely get more exposure rather than being a small ship in a sea of many labels.
Now, from the business perspective, nowadays everyone struggles. Every label that I have been in contact with, and man I've met from the smallest label you can imagine to the corporate labels, everyone struggles. That is to keep themselves above the threshold, just surviving. We are living in an age of free music, to sell records is very hard. Back in the day when you had a lot of money coming from sales, there was a dispute if you were a huge artist, in the eighties for example, and you made bad deals with the record labels. There was less decency back then in their establishment. But today, the label itself struggles for its existence. They are the platform for your sounds to be out there, and once that happens, and you manage yourself well in terms of live performances, you shouldn't have any problems with the label. But as artists, people tend to be unfocused on how they manage themselves, they are careless. But it depends on the aim, do you want to sell 2000 records or just get the music out there? First of all, a lot depends on the individual and your plan as an artist.
Labels are open to discussion and they can help you level up your expectations and you can do magnificent things with them. Popular culture, consumerism, and unreasonable expectations are traps.
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