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Issue 1068

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Feature

AVA LEIGH: Reggie Reggie saucy

Ava Leigh
Ava Leigh

When the voice of a conscious reggae sista emerges from a camera-ready blonde babe, the resulting combination of musical credibility and visual marketability is pretty much guaranteed to attract today’s ever-shrewd industry star-makers big-time.

Which is presumably why 22-year-old, Chester-born-and-bred Ava Leigh has become one of Virgin Records’ priority new acts for summer 2008. A modern-day devotee of mid-Seventies Golden-Age reggae and raised on her mother’s collection of British lovers rock 45s (as well as Caribbean old skool greats like Marcia Griffiths and Dennis Brown), Ava kicks off her fresh take on a classic sound this month with the infectiously-romantic, chugging single ‘Mad About The Boy’ - prior to the autumn release of her highly-touted debut album, ‘Rolling’. Where moods range from the summery lilter ‘La La La’ and stoned-out, smokily-atmospheric title-track, to the darker, eco-conscious ’Breathe’. All of which in turn finds her not only teaming up producer-wise with established UK sound-men Nick Manasseh, Future Cuts and Feng Shui, but also impressively travelling to Jamaica to record with legendary roots veterans Sly & Robbie.

“I knew I wanted to record at least part of my album in Jamaica. Because, as much as you can get an amazing reggae sound from the UK, it `s never EVER going to be the same as what you’ll get over there”, begins a chilled-out-yet-chatty Ava: “So, with Sly & Robbie being big heroes of mine, the record company hooked us up. We stayed at (former lsland Records’ founder/boss) Chris Blackwell’s place up at Strawberry Hill - kinda like a 40-minute drive up a hill from Kingston. And we actually did our recording at the famous Harry J’s Studios in Kingston, which I loved because it was like stepping back into the Seventies - a totally different vibe from the UK! Whenever you turn up at the studio there’s always about 30 people outside the gate just literally waiting for their moment! It’s like they’re so into the music it’s literally embedded in their lives. And Sly & Robbie themselves are just absolutely amazing! They’re two totally different people, yet they work together so well it’s UNBELIEVABLE! You know, it was always a really chilled-out vibe that just felt very natural - as opposed to being in a studio where everything’s really regimental. And, of the tracks we did together, I think ‘Rolling’ in particular is a very important one in that it doesn’t really have much of a strict criteria. You know, it’s not a verse/chorus/verse/chorus sorta thing. It’s purely a VIBE track. Which is what I really love and something I just couldn’t have got from anywhere else.”

With Ava having started out at 11 singing lead and touring Europe with her school’s jazz band, the story of how she’s ended up a professional reggae singer/songwriter is an interesting one: ’Well, the one question everyone asks me is how I’m singing reggae when I come from Chester, a town which has no reggae scene in the SLIGHTEST!”, she admits openly: “So that’s where my mum comes in! In that she’d sing along to all her old lovers rock records while doing the ironing on Sunday! And, as she and I have almost identical taste in music, I just got totally into it. To the point where it kind of didn’t MATTER any more that I was from Chester and singing reggae! I mean, Janet Kay’s ‘Silly Games’ was the track that really first did it for me. And then, from the age of 15/16, reggae became my music - it was all that I was listening to! Plus it just really suited my VOICE! You know, when something feels right it just DOES - and reggae just felt RIGHT! And I also found it very easy to WRITE to. Because reggae is one type of music where you can pretty much state your opinions and talk about what’s going on in the world, and it just resonates with EVERYBODY! So, once I’d lived and experienced a few things, I was able to write about them in a way everyone could relate to. Like the track ‘Same Old Thing’ is about being on the dole. How after a time it becomes a sort of hole you can’t get out of, because you’ve been in it so long that you just feel comfortable. Which is something I know I went through for a couple of years. It was quite a dark time in my life, because every day was the same. I was lethargic, and I just never thought I’d be able to break free from it. And, with it being a universal thing, when you write about it it becomes something that a lot of people in the UK and around the world are gonna be able to identify with.”

Vocally, meanwhile, Ava hopes to become part of a musical movement bringing singers (as opposed to dancehall deejays) back to the forefront in reggae: “I think the reason we’re now living in the decade of dancehall deejays is because everyone these days is so into hip hop and rap, and dancehall is basically the reggae version of that”, she concedes: “But, while I think it’s a shame there hasn’t been a lot of successful new reggae SINGERS in the last 10 years, I just always knew that it was gonna come back around again. So hopefully me doing this can help signal the start of many more vocalists to come. Certainly the reggae community itself has been very welcoming. Like, my manager’s father is a Rastafarian and, as soon as he listens to my music, he just GETS it! Because, although I don’t LOOK like a person that would sing reggae, when you HEAR me you realise how my tone just fits so nicely with the vibe. And also, when people meet me, they do realise that with me it is very much a natural thing and that I’m not at all a contrived person. You know, I don’t think reggae ever was about colour or politics or what religion you were. To me it’s basically a music that just resonates with EVERYBODY!”

The single ‘Mad About The Boy’ is released July 28. The album ‘Rolling’ follows September 19, both through Virgin Records
Words PETE LEWIS

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